Introduction To Jeffrey Bigelow
"Jeffrey Bigelow, whose signed pieces of acrylic furniture are cherished by collectors, is and artist whose work is contemporary, but doesn't hint of the space age. It is not shocking, or arresting or avant garde. It is simply classically beautiful." (feature article) - The New York Times -
Jeffrey Bigelow is and artist
of international renown. The uncompromising integrity of his innovative
designs has earned him the reputation as the foremost designer of sculptured
acrylic furniture. Every exquisite design is inspired by an original art
and meticulously transformed by the sensitive Bigelow craftsman into a object
that is both classically beautiful and justifiably functional.
Each work of art is a result of a guiding principle that has become the
hallmark of his unprecedented creations and sets the standards by which all
others are judged: to create fine art in furniture by finding and preserving
the perfect balance of art, form and function.
Jeffrey Bigelow creations, each signed and dated by the artist, are treasured by serious collectors around the world and exhibited by museums and major galleries throughout the nation. Bronze, glass and crystal clear acrylic become cherished works of art in the imaginative mind of the sculptor. Only the finest materials are hand selected to ensure that the original design concepts are faithfully represented in the finished works, giving each new creation a special life of its own. Light burst from within the crystal-like shapes and flows into delicate ribbons of color, simulating a living jewel in the midst of its environment, be it traditional or modern, it's no wonder that those who have invested in the hand sculpted acrylic furniture of Jeffrey Bigelow have found that the value increases with every passing year.
Jeffrey Bigelow was one of the first to visualize cast acrylic sheet as timelessly elegant and capable of becoming a classic furniture medium. Inspired by the material and its potential, he founded Jeffrey Bigelow Design Group, Inc. in 1972 and began his quest to raise design and craftsmanship standards to their highest possible level. By all standards, he has succeeded. In 1974, The Renwick Gallery, part of the Smithsonian Institute, chose one of his dining table sculptures to be included in a traveling exhibit shown across the nation. Today, his works are represented in America's major design center galleries. His creations are sought after by all who appreciate fine art in furniture. As for the future, he has a theory: "So long as I never compromise the integrity of the design and craftsmanship of my furniture, the value of an investment in my work as a true art form is unlimited."
The Technical Art of Jeffrey Bigelow
Since 1969, when at 21 years old he began working with acrylic sheet as co-owner of Glaspec in Kensington Maryland, he alone has been the guiding force in innovative technique and design. So highly evolved is his craft that all who have apprenticed under him are recognized as the best acrylic craftsman in the world.
Jeffrey Bigelow was the first to utilize highly sophisticated acrylic monomer cements in acrylic furniture. Through the use of monomer cements and years of experimentation, he was finally able to weld massive blocks of acrylic together without any visible separation. Recognition of this achievement was materialized when, in 1976, the Rohm & Hass company (the inventors of Plexiglas) invited Jeffrey Bigelow to their Philadelphia research laboratories to teach their scientists how to weld acrylic so flawlessly. This invention allowed Bigelow to begin expending the perimeters of design into thicker and thicker acrylic sheet.
Jeffrey Bigelow's tables evolve
from flat sheet of acrylic in various thickness. These sheets range in thickness
from 1 1/4" thick to 6" thick and can weigh as much as
1,100 lbs.. Using heavy equipment such as floating table saws, routers,
milling machines, 8" -12"- 30" jointers and 36" band saws.
After cutting and machining parts from the sheet, the "finishing"
Jeffrey Bigelow uses what he
refers to as "hand block sanding" to begin the laborious task of
bringing to life the crystal-like reflections in the acrylic. A piece of
sandpaper is wrapped around a flat block then placed against the acrylic
surface to be sanded. By stroking back and forth against the acrylic the
craftsman cuts off the minute ridges (distortions) left on the acrylic by the
machines. Slowly through steps of 100 grit to 1200 grit sandpaper the craftsman
sands away each previous layer of coarser ridges in the acrylic
surface until the surface is water flat. Electric sanders (an industry
standard) would be faster but Bigelow will not tolerate the rounded edges in the
acrylic left by these automated tools. Once the sanding is complete the
acrylic is ready for polishing.
Polishing is done with a soft flannel 10" diameter buff that spins on the end of a flexible shaft buffing machine. The buffing machine is set to precisely 1,620 rpm., a special buffing compound of wax and pumice is applied to the spinning wheel. Then the wheel is lightly passed over that sanded surface. Care must be taken to insure that each edge and surface does not get over buffed which would cause unacceptable optical distortion. Jeffrey Bigelow has trained each and every craftsman in this technique. A keen eye, patience, and "nit picking" attention to detail are prerequisites to qualifying for a job finishing acrylic parts.
As parts are made ready they are then glued to other components to form the intricate shapes of the Bigelow designs. Only the most tenured craftsman can be trusted to apply the Bigelow techniques in the art of monomer cement for welding the parts. On average, a craftsman has worked as an apprentice for at least 6 years before he is allowed to begin apprenticing in the techniques of monomer welding. Acrylic monomer cements are "squashed" out from between joining surfaces. Each surface has to be flattened or contoured to match precisely the same opposite surface that it is to mate with. If not perfectly done, the weld will bubble, star (small star shaped imperfections) or separate. One craftsman who had worked for Jeffrey Bigelow for 20 years says, "Bigelow has an intuitive sense of the materials and finds solutions to complex fabricating problems in monomer welding that stump even the most experienced of us."
Jeffrey Bigelow began using foundry cast bronze parts in his tables in 1976 with the introduction of the GW Clyde's dining/foyer table series. Cast bronze is heavy and hard to work with. Jeffrey Bigelow discovered early in the development of interfacing bronze into his work that no foundry would both cast and polish the metal to a lustrous finish acceptable to the standards of quality Jeffrey Bigelow demanded. To satisfy the need for high quality bronze finishing, Jeffrey Bigelow built a bronze finishing shop to insure that each part meets his demanding specifications. Some of his elaborate bronze plinths require more than 50 hours to polish.
Once the acrylic parts are welded together and the bronze bases are finished, they are joined together to form the complete table. This process is called interfacing. Jeffrey Bigelow's genius once again appears, or disappears as the case may be. To connect dissimilar materials together is a craftsman's nightmare further complicated by the fact that acrylic is transparent, making it impossible to hide or use industry standard mechanical fasteners which are commonly used in other forms of fabricating. Jeffrey Bigelow goes to extreme measures to insure the structural integrity of the interface is maximized without compromising the aesthetics. To accomplish this he uses polyester (fiberglass) resins to create a mating interface that holds the parts together without stress. This process can add days to the production time of each table, but it insures that each interface will not chip, crack or oyster. This technical innovation, like so many others, remains an exclusive to the Bigelow creations.
Jeffrey Bigelow's greatest tribute comes from the many other acrylic artists' and manufacturers' that have been, at the least, inspired to follow in his footsteps, to experiment with monomer cementing technique, and to raise their level of craftsmanship and quality. Those who were lucky enough to train under him have been given an incomparable educations in the art of acrylic fabrication, which in some cases has launched them into their own careers in acrylic furniture. Of all his accomplishments it is this singular contribution to the world of acrylic furniture of which he is most proud.