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Treasures


at Home Furniture


Oklahoma resident creates early American furniture with style By Elaine Warner


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bout the last place you’d expect to fi nd an artist creating early American furniture would be on the rolling prairie of central Oklahoma. But that’s where Connecticut native Ste- phen Smith is living and making pieces in 17th and 18th-century styles for custom- ers who appreciate American tradition and fi ne craftsmanship.


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Like many transplants, Smith and his wife Sue, Caddo Electric Cooperative members, moved to Oklahoma to be close to family. “We’d visited here several times and we loved the country,” Smith says.


Smith comes from a long line of men who were good with their hands. His father invent- ed and built machinery and did woodwork- ing as a hobby, and his great-grandfather and great-great grandfather were inventors for companies that built clocks. Smith’s moth- er’s family owned a furniture store. “When I was in junior high school I took


shop class,” Smith says. “All the kids were just fooling around. They weren’t interested in what they were doing; so I took it for one year and never took it again.”


When he went to college, Smith majored in psychology. Even before he graduated, he knew that he needed to be doing something else.


“I knew that I wanted to make things,” he says.


Among the first pieces of furniture he crafted were a table, a clock case and a jewelry box for Sue while they were courting. He went to work for a company that made conveyors for large companies like Coca-Cola. While Smith and Sue were on their honeymoon, Smith’s father got a call from a furniture re- storer named Arne Ahlberg, asking if Smith was interested in a job.


Upon his return, Smith quit his job at the conveyor company and worked for the next 13 years, learning the finer points of early American furniture.


“Smith had a background for the work. His father was an artist and a craftsman and Smith grew up in his father’s workshop. I’m retired now, but we were basically re- storers and had a shop full of nice things for sale,” Ahlberg says. “When you restore furniture, you often have to take it com- pletely apart so Smith could see how things were made. He has a great understanding of period furniture, a fi ne sense of propor- tion and a flair for special detail. He’s a natural.”


Listening to Smith talk, it’s obvious that he loves what he does.


“Growing up in Connecticut, I fell in love with the furniture of New England and the idea of what I would have been doing in the 1750s.”


Knowing the history of furniture mak- ing in America is part of the fun. “In the beginning,” he says, “trade went back and forth between England and the colonies. We were pretty eager to adopt English styles.”


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Chippendale secretary made by Stephen Smith. Yale University commissioned two of Smith’s secretaries to be used in their Visitor Center. Photo by Elaine Warner


According to Smith, Thomas Chippen- dale was an architect of furniture. He wrote guidebooks on styles and what fashionable people should have. America copied them but had a better supply of lumber. England was an island economy and they had ex- isted for such a long time, they had used


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