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Jim Rose: Ming Simplicity In Steel

For 33 years, Jim Rose has cultivated the mind of a maker. He’s absorbed the practices of Ming and Shaker furniture makers, not just through study, but through the physical creation of objects that carry their influence. Instead of traditional carved wood, he uses hot-rolled and reclaimed steel — coaxing the material into clean-lined forms.

“I’ve always been interested in a lot of different types of furniture,” Jim explains. “Shaker, Arts and Crafts, Bauhaus, and Chinese pieces are all in the mix. For the Steel Ming Collection, I’ve been looking at a lot of books, but I’ve also walked through the PAGODA RED warehouse, studying and measuring pieces.”

In his workshop, a century-old Wisconsin brick building that was once a creamery, sheets of hot-rolled and Corten steel lean against the walls. Using a steel shear, he cuts a series of shapes — rectangular table tops, cylindrical legs, thin stretchers, and the occasional rounded ornament. He then welds them together into archetypal forms that would feel equally at home in a modern apartment or a historic home.

Hot-rolled steel and reclaimed blue stretchers marry ancient forms and modern materials in a Ming Shanxi Table.

Color is inherent to the material — the cool blue-gray of hot-rolled steel, the warm patina of aged Corten, the occasional red ringed drawer-pull sourced from old painted railroad washers. Each piece is finished with a Minwax paste, which protects it without detracting from the material’s essential nature.

Railroad tie washers become drawer pulls on this Console Table, honoring Chinese laborers who built the railroads.

From the beginning, when he was a student at the Art Institute of Chicago, Jim has worked with scrap materials. It was a practical decision that would instill his work with a timeworn spirit for years to come.

“I was doing a lot of silver and bronze casting,” Jim says, “and I had to find an affordable material, so I started sourcing from a scrapyard. Happily, it was a sustainable choice — I didn’t have to use harsh chemicals, and the steel was already aged by the environment.”

In steel, his furniture brings the past into the present. The material is contemporary, but the shapes stretch back to the austere, self-sufficient Shaker furniture of the 1800s and further afield to the simple but superbly crafted pieces of China’s Ming Dynasty (1368-1644).

A Ming-inspired console table takes shape in Jim Rose’s workshop, a 100-year-old former creamery in Wisconsin.

In the Ming Collection, longevity plays a significant role. Each piece is crafted from materials that will last well beyond our lifetime. In conversations that circle between continents and time periods, the furniture easily adapts to any space. For Jim, the idea of endurance is less about the furniture itself and more about the people who use it.

“I feel like I have an obligation to the people who collect my work that it increases in value,” he says. “It should become more collectible over time.”

Many pieces have found permanent homes in museums — from the Smithsonian, to New York’s Museum of Arts and Design, to the Milwaukee Art Museum — where they sit among the objects that influenced them. Private collections also prosper, as many people acquire companion pieces over time. An individual collector might own as many as twenty Jim Rose pieces.

Visiting the Carnegie Museum of Art in Pittsburgh, Jim was surprised to encounter an early piece called Chinese Coins, which a collector had donated to the institution. “There it was, sitting on the museum floor,” he recalls. “It was a piece from a series of quilt cupboards I made.” In an American center of industrial steel, Chinese and Shaker influences met — a fitting metaphor for all that converges in a Jim Rose piece.

To learn more, see the Steel Ming Collection by Jim Rose for PAGODA RED.

Each handmade piece in the collection can be made to order by the artist in a variety of sizes. For information on lead times and pricing, please call 888-878-8628

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Furniture by Jim Rose

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