Meet David Orth: American sculptor, furniture designer, and liturgical artist

Oh My! I get to meet such interesting people through my photo-journalists freelancing. OrthMedRes-photoCreditMark-Sterner Last week, [tweetthis]I met David Orth. He’s 62, a sculptor, and a philosopher. [/tweetthis] And he’s practically my neighbor.  Okay, that last one’s a stretch; David lives in the same county as I do.

David began as a furniture maker.  Obviously not, just any furniture maker.  Here’s what he said in an essay he wrote, “The Riddle of Craft:”

The secret, enduring purpose of craft is to disturb our sleep with an elegant riddle. Deep within the body of a craft an enigma curls and uncurls. There were odd hints all along–little moments when I sensed that craft may not be such a simple, practical pleasure. I saw that I understood tools wrongly. Tools are not only for acting on materials, but also for seeing, listening, and reflecting. With practice even a hammer eventually becomes a kind of combination microscope/stethoscope/mirror. In my approach to the wood, something of my own condition could be seen. Now and then, I sensed that some old tools radiated a rare intelligence from another time and another place. After a few years I realized that craft even had something of astronomy in it. I had to gaze, stalk, study, wait, suffer, gamble, and speculate. Craftsmen, and all lovers of craft, finger secret questions in their hands.

Oh My!  No wonder people started asking him to make ceremonial items for synagogues, and churches, and even cremation urns.  Now he considers himself an American sculptor, furniture artist, industrial designer, and liturgical artist, and a teacher and coach.

Look at this sculpture David did for the middle of a mediation labyrinth.  Isn’t it cool? David named this sculpture “Meeting.”


Okay, let’s look again with a little more information.

  • The labyrinth is inside of a larger park named “Peace Park” in Woodstock, Illinois.  (You may recognize Woodstock as the place where Bill Murray‘s Groundhog Day occurred.)
  • The labyrinth is an ancient form of walking in a meditative way. Most do not have anything in the middle. A very few have a bench to sit upon.  David walked many labyrinth. He felt the center lacked a focus to hold the walker there in contemplation.
  • The sculpture has two distinct, 90 degrees opposing parts: a straight and linear part and a fluid and curved part.

According to Orth, “The two parts are in conversation with each other. It’s not an easy conversation. That is the essence of peace. Peace may begin as part of conflict, but effort can produce peace and creativity.” The symbolism is not confined to countries or cultures, but it can represent peace between two people, or peace within opposing parts of one person.

David loves to work while classical music plays. He studied classical guitar in his younger years. He says he has an inner poet and an inner engineer, which are odds with each other. David  learned to let the two sides sit down and talk and work it out together. That place of inner peace allows his work to be finely crafted and poetic at the same time.

David told me that anyone can be a sculptor. “Don’t get too hung up with getting expensive tools, expensive supplies, and a complete studio,” he told me.  Just dedicate an hour a day, or an hour a week, and experiment.  “Even working with popsicle sticks is a place to start. You can take anything and begin to build. Just allow yourself to jump in.”  He advises the beginner to start simple and try to find a balance between what is functional and beautiful and what brings the joy of learning the craft. “My design came out of very slow, early work that I don’t even show.”  Besides his own art, Orth teaches people how to get started.

And guess who, David credits as his biggest inspiration?  His mother, who is still painting with water colors at 85 years old. He says, even though he was interested in many things as a teenager, he always knew he liked to work with hands.  Even while he studied for his philosophy degree at Northwestern University, he came home and preferred to do some woodworking.  Philosophy gave him a way to approach it more intellectually, as an art, not just a craft.  His mother taught him many things about art. The blend of art and philosophy taught him he could make a good piece of furniture or sculpture with intellectual and spiritual meaning.

Want more information about David and his work? Visit him  at

[tweetthis]Enough of my words. Here are some more photos of David’s gorgeous work. [/tweetthis] He supplied me with all the photos in this post.

Oh my! Again.  So beautiful. I feel blessed to have met David.  Don’t you? Maybe someday he’ll introduce me to his mother.  I’d love to talk to her, too.

Orth-walnutSideTable Orth-walnutMysteryCabinet Orth-CherryMahoganyWritingDesk Orth-bronzeGlyphTable Orth-bronzeCremationUrns