“Family”- the story behind Tom Shields’ peculiar piece

"Family" by Tom Shields

On the right, just inside the entrance to the Gregg galleries, is a group of chairs that have been joined together to form a single piece. Each chair maintains its individuality, yet is now inextricably bound to all the others. Like many works of art, this piece may seem bewildering by its purpose.  Created by Asheville artist Tom Shields and titled “Family,” these chairs not only draw attention to the role furniture plays in our lives, but also make a comment on our social roles.

Often describing himself as an individual who “tap[s] into the forms that [he] has spent time learning,” Shields was inspired to create this piece because he became aware of the fact that we live in a world that constantly supplies new material possessions. And with new possessions comes more and more items ending up in the trash. Astonished by the fact that this culture is becoming the cause of multiple environmental issues, Shields decided to remove himself from this way of life. He lived in warehouses, ate out of dumpsters, and found what he needed to survive in the cast-offs of others. This lifestyle inspired him to create artwork, adding that scratches, wear, and damage, only help to further his intent to address people and relationships.  In stating this, Shields also believes that chairs are blatant representatives of us.

Using furniture to portray human beings is the kind of idea that might not cross the mind of the average individual.  However, Tom Shields’ reasoning behind the piece makes absolute sense. Because furniture has literally supported the lives of human beings it should be one of the first mediums used to portray mankind. I find it inspiring that Shields dedicated a portion of his life to alter his lifestyle to run parallel with his view on today’s wasteful society.

–Lerato Tsotetsi
North Carolina State University
Freshman, Fashion & Textile Management
Marketing Intern, Gregg Museum of Art and Design

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  • North Carolina State University

  • ARTS NC State

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