From Lawn Road to South Chicago: Progressive Plywood in Times of Change

17 November 2020 - January 14, 2021

64 White Street


On November 17th, 2020, R & Company is proud to present the furniture of Norman Teague, including the first realized edition of the “Sinmi” stool, as well as the debut of the “Africana” collection of furniture, in an exhibition at 64 White Street. A designer and teacher, Teague forcefully reinscribes the histories of Black design into the Western canon. To illustrate the bentwood continuum in the history of seating, and to emphasize the importance of community and equity in design, Teague’s designs will be juxtaposed in the gallery with masterworks in bent plywood produced by a small circle of modernists in London in the mid-1930s. As an African American, Teague feels empowered to add to the predominantly White design world. Analogous to the collaborative atmosphere of many of the small progressive design firms of the 1930s, Teague’s practice is intertwined with the local community on the South Side of Chicago.

Sinmi (2015)

The “Sinmi” edition is the culmination of more than five years of bent plywood prototypes by Norman Teague, including an early example recently acquired by the Art Institute of Chicago. The “Sinmi” Stool (which means “to relax” in Yoruba) is available in an Edition of 25 in three different styles of veneer and seating material. The furniture is produced by Teague and a community of Black artisans on the South Side of Chicago, with a shared goal of building a sustainable design industry. The leather saddles are made by Yohance Lacour.

Africana (2020)

In the “Africana” collection (2020), Teague enters a dialogue with West African rituals. The critic F. Philip Barash writes:

The collection references face paint and scarring practices that bear ritual significance. At the same time, both paint and scarring are everyday practices of self- care and kinship. “Africana” makes its own space within this polemic. It is simultaneously a declaration of intent and a perfectly human, warm thing – “comfortable with its Blackness” – and shaped by one body for the use of others. The collection is tactile and tough. Teague compares it to the work of artist Kara Walker, whose larger-than-life silhouettes, in their frankness, can land a powerful punch. And yet, Teague has these pieces speaking fluently to canonical Western industrial design. As a professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago, Teague is at the confluence of contemporary American design, engaging flows of modernist, brutalist, organic, and craft traditions. “Africana” acknowledges these traditions, but also provokes them. Sure, Teague’s work is relentlessly intentional and its craftsmanship relentless. Sure, it speaks in design establishment jargon. But there’s something in the very posture of the pieces, Teague says, meant to tell you to “loosen up, motherfucker.”

The “Africana” collection makes its debut in the exhibition with a chair and rocking chair , which will be available in an Edition of 10. Each chair will have unique carved decorations by Teague. The basswood frames are digitally fabricated by Max Davis. The leather seats are made by Yohance Lacour, with inscriptions by Teague. The exhibition will also include an unfinished table. Members of the public are invited to ritually carve and inscribe the table with Teague by appointment on November 17th and 18th.

Lawn Road (1934-39)

James Zemaitis, the Director of Museum Relations at R & Company, has selected a small group of English bent plywood designs that are considered “prime objects” in the history of modern design. Two small firms produced them in London in the 1930s: Isokon, founded by Jack Pritchard and Wells Coates and based in the legendary Lawn Road Flats in Hampstead and Makers of Simple Furniture, founded by Gerald and Marjorie Summers. The selection includes such icons as “Bent Plywood Armchair” (1934) designed by Gerald Summers, the “Long Chair” (1936) by Marcel Breuer, and an extremely rare “Penguin Donkey” (1939) by Egon Riss, which comes from the Estate of Jack Pritchard. These masterworks of furniture, which are now preserved in numerous museum collections across the globe, were based on avant-garde ideas formulated by designers on the European continent, many of whom were forced to flee Nazi Germany in the mid-1930s. Several of these designers, including Breuer, Riss, and Walter Gropius settled in Hampstead and were employed by Isokon.

About Norman Teague

Norman Teague is a Chicago-based designer and educator whose practice focuses on using design as an agent for change and as a mechanism to empower black and brown communities.

In 2012, Teague worked with Theaster Gates on “12 Ballads for Huguenot House”, dOCUMENTA (13) in Kassel, Germany. He exhibited in Milan during the 2015 Salone del Mobile at the Rossana Orlandi Gallery, and shortly thereafter had his first solo exhibition at Blanc Gallery in Bronzeville, Chicago. In February 2017, Teague participated in “Wall of Respect: Vestiges, Shards and Legacy of Black Power” at the Chicago Cultural Center. This exhibition chronicled the legacy of a seminal mural developed for and within Chicago’s Black South Side communities located at 43rd Street and Langley Avenue, and was unveiled to critical acclaim in 1967.

Along with Fo Wilson, Norman Teague is a partner in BlkHaUS studio, L3C. The team blends contemporary aesthetics with locally-sourced materials to create furniture, objects, and spaces that transform common typologies into original works that are representative of twenty-first century design. Sounding Bronzeville, a current commission by the Wildlife Corridor, the Field Museum, and the Chicago Park District, is a public arts project that teams Teague and Wilson with designer Chris Buchakjian.

Teague was recently named a creative collaborator on the exhibitions team for the Barack Obama Presidential Library with design lead, Ralph Appelbaum and Associates. Past projects also include partnerships with Leaders1354, The Silver Room, The Exchange Café, Chicago Architecture Foundation, and The Art Institute of Chicago.

Teague is an Adjunct Associate Professor at the University of Illinois, Chicago. He received his MFA in Designed Objects from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago and a BA in Product Design from Colombia College, Chicago.