T he Chatsworth House's collection of furniture by Irish designer/maker Joseph Walsh is an exquisite example of unique, contemporary design paired with time-honoured materials. The Duke of Devonshire was immediately drawn to Walsh's aesthetic, having first come across the designer's work at Todd Merrill's shop on Bleecker Street, New York. Before long the Duke met with the artist in person and began collecting and commissioning his work. The Duke notes:
"A pair of chairs (Enignum I) were our first acquisition and we put them on the visitor route and encouraged people to sit on them. Of course, this was very popular because although they look unusual they are very comfortable to sit in. So popular were they that after two years they had to be reupholstered."
"Many generations of our family have acquired new furniture from the best contemporary makers and I am glad to say we are no exception to this. At the moment Joseph Walsh's furniture at Chatsworth is sat on but I expect that someday it will become regarded as too important to risk being damaged. Apart from some of our contemporary ceramics, Joseph Walsh's furniture gives us more pleasure than anything we have collected. It is no surprise that he is now an internationally regarded maker and designer."
Born in Cork, Ireland in 1979, Walsh spent his childhood surrounded by nature on his family's farm. The influence of this experience is clear to see in the designer's work; while he uses marble and metal in his designs, wood holds a special meaning for Walsh:
"It's a warm, natural material that records its life in grain patterns. There is much traditional knowledge and mastery, yet it has so much potential for innovation."
The title of the work, Enignum, derives from the Latin words for mystery – "enigma" – and wood – "lignum". The three pieces in the Chatsworth collection directly reference layers, both in the material and in time itself. For Walsh, the Enignum series proved pivotal to the development of his oeuvre. He notes:
"The Duke started commissioning my work at the very beginning of the Enignum series which was very much a turning point in my work. I would say it was the moment when, following an exhibition in NYC, I realised I wanted to break the formality that I had created in my work...I found this through a process of working more sympathetically with the material and continuing the design process through the making, allowing the work to evolve relative to the material."
The present works were made with olive ash, bleached ash, and suede; the second Enignum chair features a graphite finish.