What do Jacques Guillion’s Cord Chair, Clairtone’s G2 Stereo, and Jan Kuypers’ Helsinki Desk have in common? They are all objects designed in Canada and made using manufacturing processes learned from the wartime aircraft industry. Opening September 17, DX Uncrated: Icons In Wood, highlights the post-WWII shift in Canadian furniture production from artisan-style shops employing cabinetmakers to furniture cut, formed, and assembled on production lines by factory workers.

Until the mid-twentieth century, the industry was characterized by the ownership of small plants by local families, often for generations. Many of these artisan-style shops employed cabinetmakers in the guild tradition, with a single worker cutting, planing, and finishing the lumber for each object by hand.  During WWII, a number of Canadian furniture makers, such as Electrohome of Kitchener, Ontario, lent their skills to the aircraft industry through the fabrication of components for warplanes.

Following WWII, fast-growing families created a huge demand for new furniture. Meeting the need at prices consumers could afford required ingenuity, and a radical shift began. Several aircraft manufacturers, including Canadian Wooden Aircraft and Aero Marine Industries, switched to furniture production, recognizing that plywood processes could be perfect for this modern consumer. Furniture was now cut, formed, and assembled on production lines by factory workers, rather than handcrafted by cabinetmakers. Production managers, marketing staff and industrial designers became key forces driving the industry and Canada’s adventurous talents used moulded plywood to unite modernist concerns with efficient production and original design. 

Curated by Sara Nickleson, Curator and Director of Collections

Design Exchange Permanent Collection celebrates Canada's rich industrial design history from 1945 to the present, and will be expanding this fall to welcome new accessions. Spanning more than five decades, the collection includes more than 600 industrial design objects and archival materials including furniture, housewares, textiles, electronics, and lighting.

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