Designer Profile: Katonah’s Shiela Hale

A Westchester artist and furniture deisgner shares her story.

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And books are not just on the shelves. In the dining area, a Philippe Starck tripod floor lamp hovers over a tall stack of books. Nearby is Hale’s “cathedral table,” created from recycled wooden pallets and laden with books. (The table was originally designed specifically to display one of her artist’s books for her 2007 solo exhibition, Documentaries, at The Studio: An Alternative Space for Contemporary Art in Armonk.)

In the living-room portion, Hale has created a coffee table made of books that rest on a platform with castors and have a glass top to protect them. She also has two side tables incorporating books, works in progress that she calls her “stacked improvisations.” Most of the walls are adorned with Hale’s artwork, including her Notation for a Silent Song, which is fashioned of leaves from a London planetree, wire, and construction paneling. Also on display are a number of paintings from her maidenhair fern series, many of which were on display in the Documentaries exhibition. “There’s a maidenhair fern growing right outside the door of my house that inspired this series,” she says. “I find that a lot of the artwork I do comes immediately from nature and what’s around me.”

A peek into Hale’s inner studio reveals even more artwork, giving insight into how her table and book creations have melded together and evolved over the years. In the center of the room rests her massive piece, Volumes from a Black Library (2001), which is composed of an original table she made from rough-sawn cedar piled with dozens of books that have had their texts shredded or mutilated. In some cases, words have been replaced with natural objects. In explaining this piece, Hale says, “My art usually comes from peacefulness, but this was an explosion of anger and frustration about the misuse of language to manipulate and deceive—with shredded text, you can’t access meaning.”

Showing a more whimsical, upbeat side to her artwork is a piece called the Nest Book, set on one of Hale’s handmade tables and featuring shredded pages of an old leather-bound book with feathers and an egg nestled inside. (The piece won first prize at the Katonah Museum of Art’s tri-state juried exhibition in 2009.) 

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