In 1972, following his remarkable search for the Tasmanian Tiger, and inspired by the occasional giant logs which the timber men called ‘single riders’ (one to a truck) that he saw while he was in Tasmania, Jeremy Griffith had the idea of making unadulterated wooden furniture from beautiful bark to bark slabs cut from giant logs. While such complete bark to bark slabs or ‘flitches’ are now commonly seen in table and bar tops, no one was using such pure slabs of wood in furniture design in those days. Indeed, on Jeremy’s return from Tasmania he went to the Wood Technology Centre in Sydney to seek their advice on his slab furniture idea and they laughed saying that the slabs would warp. However, while sitting in their waiting room, Jeremy saw in one of their wood working journals, pictures of a saw mill on the far north coast of New South Wales that was seasoning timber in slabs rather than the usual cut down state. Undeterred by the Sydney experts, Jeremy hitch-hiked the 800 kilometres (500 miles) to the sawmill and spoke to the timber seasoning expert there who told him that as long as the slabs were treated the same on both sides he thought they would stay reasonably flat. So Jeremy walked across their timber yard and pulled out the biggest slab he could find, purchased it, and transported it four kilometres (over 2 miles) on a wheelbarrow to a joinery shop where he had it planed and dressed. From this slab he made his first table in an abandoned truck shelter. Over the next four years Jeremy worked on his simple, unadulterated designs and in 1976 he and one of his brothers, who had come to join him, had saved enough money to purchase a 54 hectare property in the foothills where they established Griffith Tablecraft.
Jeremy’s vision was to create a range of furniture free from embellishment that highlighted the natural beauty and simplicity of the timber. The range was free of processed materials: no screws, nails or bolts, staples, glue, stain, plastic, paint or metal; no curves, moulding or turning; constructed using dry joints, wood pegs and pins, leather straps and twitched rope. All the pieces were fully demountable with all the elements in each piece being a multiple of one thickness of wood as illustrated in the advertisements above.
4 minute video of Tim Macartney-Snape and Jeremy Griffith
talking about Jeremy’s furniture and demonstrating its simple
construction and the ease with which it can be demounted
(taken from Part 2 of the 2009 Introductory Video titled
‘The World Transformation Movement’)
At the time that Jeremy was establishing the furniture business the Australian Government was offering grants to encourage people to create businesses, but when Jeremy applied they said he would have to locate the business in a conventional industrial estate. Jeremy wanted to be out with nature, so, fund-less, but with the help of a local bushman who was proficient in using poles to build farm hay sheds, he designed a massive workshop with all the frame built out of timber poles, which was far less expensive to build than a conventional steel-framed shed. Since Australian hardwoods are so strong, large all-pole-framed sheds have been built in Australia, but this one, when it was completed, was said to be the biggest ever (the roof poles all span 12.2 metres or 40 feet)! Those men building the shed that you can see sitting on the rafters in the photo below (top left) were members of the Uki tug-of-war team and they had been undefeated at the Royal Easter Show in Sydney for something like 10 years in a row, so they were very big men, which gives some idea of the immense size of the workshop! Jeremy designed the building to be so large so there would be room for the huge flitches of timber to be stored. In time a solar kiln was built beside the workshop. A showroom and museum complex was also built nearby, and eventually an art gallery and a fully facilitated restaurant. From these buildings, which were also built from poles (centre left photo), a walkway extended up into the pole frame of the workshop so visitors could look down on the whole manufacturing process from the log to the finished furniture item (centre right photo).
Jeremy’s ingenious designs were to gain much admiration and acclaim. Articles about the furniture featured in prominent Australian design magazines. Furniture was commissioned not only from private buyers but for commercial interiors, restaurant fit-outs, and even a chapel. Each table made was numbered and a piece of the wood kept as a record. By 1991, when Jeremy sold his share in the business, the Griffith Tablecraft Furniture Park had become a popular tourist destination with a staff of 45 people.
As was explained about the idealism of the unresigned mind in the description that was given of Jeremy’s search for the Tasmanian Tiger, working within and maintaining an uncompromised, honest, uncorrupted framework, as opposed to the compromised, artificial, dishonest framework of the resigned world, was and has always been of paramount importance to every one of Jeremy’s unique undertakings. For Griffith Tablecraft that framework was encapsulated in a document Jeremy wrote in 1982 (and further elaborated on later) titled The Griffith Tablecraft Dream (shown on the right). This was a manifesto for the designs of the furniture and the running of the business. It was displayed in the Griffith Tablecraft museum where it was bound in chains to emphasise the importance of maintaining Jeremy’s uncompromised philosophy in everything at Griffith Tablecraft. As the last paragraph says, ‘No one must be allowed to break these chains that hold our dream. In fact the reverse must happen—we must be helped and encouraged to hold onto our dream because then the truth, the world, and we, will truly win.’ All of Jeremy’s life has been dedicated to having idealism triumph over realism, a journey that ultimately required explaining reality, the human condition no less, because that and only that is what can allow humans to return to an uncorrupted, soulful, true, ideal state.
This extract from FREEDOM: The End Of The Human Condition sums up Jeremy’s vision for his furniture. It was during his furniture design days that Jeremy began writing about the human condition in the first fresh pre-dawn hours of every day before his Griffith Tablecraft workday began. Eventually he would dedicate all his time and energy to solving this crux issue for humans, to finding an explanation for the madness of the resigned world and its desperate need for embellishment and distraction:
“Just to illustrate the change that is going to come to our old materialistic way of living, in front of me is a teaspoon—well, the monetary value of all the human-glorifying, egocentric content and effort that has gone into its ornate, embellished design, extravagant silver plating and competitive salesmanship and marketing to sell it to me, etc, etc, could feed a starving person for a week! Almost everything I see in front of me—my extravagant watch, my fancy shirt, my sophisticated pen—is in truth obscenely extravagant in a human-condition-free world. I should re-design all these items so they are not so extravagant, and it won’t be long before I and everyone else in the world will be doing just that. In fact, I idealistically once designed and manufactured a full range of wooden furniture that was free of embellishment and artificial content before realising that for such integrity to be tolerated the human condition needed to be explained. Imagine if all the car makers in the world were to sit down together to design one extremely simple, embellishment-free, functional car that was made from the most environmentally-sustainable materials, how cheap to buy and humanity-and-Earth-considerate that vehicle would be. And imagine all the money that would be saved by not having different car makers duplicating their efforts, competing and trying to out-sell each other, and overall how much time that would liberate for all those people involved in the car industry to help those less fortunate and suffering in the world. Likewise, imagine when each house is no longer designed to make an individualised, ego-reinforcing, status-symbol statement for its owners and all houses are constructed in a functionally satisfactory, simple way, how much energy, labour, time and expense will be freed up to care for the wellbeing of the less fortunate and the planet.” (FREEDOM: The End Of The Human Condition)
See also Jeremy’s remarkable search for the Tasmanian Tiger and
Jeremy Griffith’s artwork. For insights into Jeremy’s ability to grapple
with and solve the human condition, see Freedom Essays 49 to 51.