As a young girl, Cindy Vargas was a dance student who
dreamed of one day becoming a dancer or choreographer. While she pursued dance
into her early 20s, Vargas has since found a different -- albeit unusual -- way
to express her creative passion of movement and music: furniture making.
Cabinet is made with mahogany and silk.
really wanted to be a dancer, but ultimately pursued a more academic course of
study at the University of Minnesota," Cindy said. "After several years
working as an administrator, I decided to return to school to study the visual
arts and woodworking."
42-year-old Vargas, whose work has been displayed in exhibitions and galleries
throughout the country, draws on her background in dance when she designs furniture.
Much of her work is sculptural, using form and gesture to create unique, evocative
Into the Dance is made with Mahogany, Fabric
41" x 70" x
such a connection between the human form and furniture," Cindy said. "I
love exploring line and shape, and the relationships they create within a space."
sculptural style of the Los Angeles-based Vargas is clearly evident in two sets
of dance-inspired chairs she designed, Into the Dance and We Bop, Bebop.
We Bop Bebop is made with Koto, Fabric 39" x 23" x 25"
the Dance is in the style of Art Deco-era furniture, and is made of mahogany with
fine upholstery fabrics. Inspired by "big band music, the foxtrot, tuxedos
and ball gowns, Into the Dance is a tribute to this fabulous era," Cindy
said. "It was a challenge to capture the gesture and movement. I spent a
lot of time working on how to convey she was leading him."
Another defining element in much of Vargas'
work is her use of fiber arts. She often combines wood with hand-dyed, hand-printed
textiles, such as the impressive Cabinet, mahogany and silk. The chest of drawers
has a hand-dyed silk facade, with about 20 different color swatches pieced together.
Bop, Bebop takes its cues from the 1950s boomerang shape that was popular in furniture
and modern art. The upholstery and shapes of the chairs are dynamic and evocative
of jazz music and Latin dance. "I think of these chairs as two women out
for a night of dancing and laughing," Cindy said. "They have big, sensuous
legs. It's very feminine."
dance-inspired chairs are "very eye-catching and very unusual," Cindy
said. "I get a great response when I show them. One of the biggest thrills
for me is when I'm doing a show and someone is walking toward my booth and they're
laughing at what they see. Little kids come up and say, 'Look, Mommy, dancing
chairs!' It's very gratifying."
in the fiber arts is "really a nice contrast to woodworking," Cindy
said. "Woodworking is very noisy and dusty, and physically taxing. The fabric
work is very relaxing and quiet. I like combining the two."
got her start in woodworking while growing up in a suburb of Minneapolis. "My
father is an architectural draftsman, and his dad before him was a carpenter,
so we had a tradition of woodworking and design in the family," she said.
grade, in the mid-1970s, Cindy enrolled in shop classes, which was somewhat groundbreaking
at the time. "That was the first year they started letting girls take shop
classes," Cindy said. "I and two other girls took woodworking and architectural
drafting. It was kind of intimidating, but it was also rewarding. I was inclined
to do something out of the ordinary."
interest in woodworking took an artistic, sculptural approach almost from the
beginning. In high school, after a storm knocked over an elm tree in her family's
backyard, she brought an elm log to school "and chainsawed it into abstract
form," Cindy said. "It was a reductive process to find the form within
the log. Embarrassingly, my parents still display it."
was just one of many creative outlets for Vargas, her four sisters and brother.
They were exposed to art at a young age, fostering an interest that carried over
into their careers; the professions of Cindy's sisters are photographer, landscape
designer, interior designer and graphic designer. "We had a lot of art exposure
as kids, taking summer school art classes. My mom and dad love the arts and took
us to many shows at the Walker Art Center and Minneapolis Institute of Arts,"
Cindy said. "It was just a natural talent and natural direction for us to
college, Cindy attended the University of Minnesota and received a degree in anthropology.
She then worked in administration at the University's Department of Orthopedic
Surgery for 10 years. During that time she took numerous art classes at the university,
including ceramics, sculpture and drawing.
1993, Cindy made the decision to pursue a career in the visual arts. She and her
husband, Ron, moved to Portland, Oregon, where she enrolled at Oregon College
of Arts and Crafts. There she received a bachelor of fine arts degree with concentrations
in woodworking, furniture design and fiber arts. They then moved from Oregon to
New York to Mississippi over a five-year period before landing in California.
"I've had sort of a vagabond career," Cindy said. "I actually dragged
my woodshop across the country each time. I keep joking that I'm just going to
buy a Ryder truck and put a generator in it and set up my shop in there. I can
set up and tear down a shop more efficiently than anyone I know." Now based
in greater Los Angeles, Vargas lives in Pasadena and has a studio in Glendale.
She shows her furniture at the Woodworker's Guild of Southern California gallery
in San Pedro, where she recently finished work as curator of the guild's holiday
show that ran through mid-December. She is currently collaborating with glass
artist Dar Horn of Union Art Works gallery in San Pedro on uniquely-designed doors
with art glass panels.
works about 10 hours a day in her 600 square foot workshop ("which is about
half as much space as I want," she says), typically utilizing all the elements
of her artistic background to create pieces.
"A lot of it is pretty sculptural,"
she said. "I use a lot of color in fabrics and paints -- mainly milk paints.
Lately I've become more interested in exploring form, and less concerned with
surface design. I'm not sure where it's going to take me."
Vargas may be reached by e-mail or
by phone at (626) 676-7841.
courtesy of Cindy Vargas
Text by Keith Wandrei
This article originally appeared in the Woodworker's Journal eZine.
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