I just did something I believe I had never before done in my life: I looked up the word “chair” in the dictionary.

What object, after all, needs less explanation than a chair? There’s no need to go looking for a definition, although the one in the dictionary --“a separate seat for one person, typically with a back and four legs”—seems perfectly serviceable.

Some woodworking and furniture design students at the Maine College of Art have been thinking about chairs a lot lately. As part of a class, they spent much of this semester designing and building a creation each would enter in the national Student Chair Design Competition. What you and I have in our kitchens and living rooms is not what the judges will be looking for. “It’s hard to build an original chair,” says Matt Hutton, the professor at MECA who teaches the class. “It’s one of the most difficult pieces of furniture to build.” It’s not the execution that’s difficult; it’s the imagining, the breaking away from the norm, the creation of something that’s not the predictable separate seat for one person, typically with a back and four legs.

For at least one student, the work will pay off handsomely. The winner of the Student Chair Design Competition will receive a $3,000 scholarship and the chance to show off the chair at a major furniture industry convention next month in New York City. The prospect of those rewards might not send you to the dictionary, but they will make some ambitious young students start thinking about chairs in a whole new way.

These chairs, designed by students, will be on display this Friday at MECA in Portland during Creative Portland's First Friday Art Walk. All busses run free on Friday including the Breeze. To find more about the First Friday Art Walk you can visit the Creative Portland website.


And to learn more about the chairs and the exhibit at MECA.