Sean Suiter wants you to look at his handmade chairs. Study them. Sit in them.
What do you see? You’re exactly right if you think you’re looking at something extraordinary. Suiter’s chairs, some made of walnut and some made of cherry, take him over 200 hours to build in his home studio. The simple act of building them is a pleasure he feels lucky to partake in.
Suiter, an Omaha patent attorney, and his wife, Sarah, live in an art-filled West Omaha home brimming with flowers and books. Their home is quite lively thanks to two talented sons, Max and Ian, and two welcoming dogs, Marco and Polo.
He is inspired by building chairs and likes chairs so much that he affectionately nicknames them. Case in point, an aptly named rocking chair, Mr. Longrockers, rests at the top of a spiral staircase. The chair was made by his father.
Suiter, a fan of the artists Dali, Rodin, Bosch, and Raphael (to name a few), enjoys contemplating the meaning of art. “I was thinking about reductionism and sitting and what it means,” he says. “When people come into a room, they subconsciously think about where they will sit.”
He says people consider if they will be in the way, whether someone else might want to sit in a particular place, and whether or not the place they intend to sit will be comfortable and safe.
“I live inside my head,” he says. “So, I just thought about how would one make a chair that looked impossible? And then went about doing it.”
He says that visitors often notice the multi-colored chair just off the entrance of his sprawling home. The chair, made of aniline-dyed birch veneer formed into plywood, is also somewhat of a puzzle. “People think there is something wrong with that chair. They can’t put their finger on it, but what it is, is that it doesn’t have four legs.”
He makes his chairs—there are 10 so far—with a hand-stitched rasp from France. A rasp is a hand tool used to shape wood. “They’re all shaped and done by hand. That’s what gives my chairs that organic look,” he says.
For his chairs, he uses the same type of wood used by guitar-makers—claro walnut, figured maple, and cherry. He knows this because he also makes acoustic guitars.
He credits his education in woodworking to two Nebraska men: a teacher and his father.
Harold Grimes was his junior high woodshop teacher in McCook, Nebraska. Grimes taught him, “You can do better. It’s not finished yet.”
His father, James Suiter, was named an All-Nebraska Artist after winning “Best of Show” at the Nebraska State Fair for his handmade rocking chairs in 2015.
The attorney-turned-maker says he learned the art of not being afraid to fail from his father. “I was never afraid to try something,” Suiter says. “It’s liberating, isn’t it, if you don’t have to succeed all of the time? If something isn’t going well, it’s OK for it to be a failure. You can put it down and learn from your mistake.”
Now, Suiter is passing his woodworking artistry to his own children. His son, Max, helps him with chairs during weekends.
Suiter believes that everyone has an artist in them. He says that if people didn’t have to spend as much time focusing on “banal things like feeding themselves and their families and providing shelter over their heads,” more art would be made. “If you have enough resources and the desire and time, you have more time to make wonderful things.”
The website showcasing Suiter’s chairs contains one word, “banausic,” and photos of his chairs.
“Banausic” is derived from the Greek word “banauskos,” and means “of or for artisans—not artists.” Suiter says banausic is the opposite of art (“functional and banal”). Webster’s New World Dictionary defines the word as “merely mechanical, materialistic, mundane, or utilitarian.”
Seated in one of Suiter’s chairs, it’s easy to feel the material artistry of Suiter’s work while pondering the deeper meaning of art itself.
Visit banausic.com for more information.
This article was printed in the May 2019 edition of OmahaHome. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.