Something out of the box

HE'S MADE cabinets fit for kings and queens and furniture that has been exhibited at art galleries and houses of parliament - all with the eye and hand of a master craftsman.

Now Lismore artist Geoff Hannah has turned his hand, lathe and other intricate tools to making exquisite timber boxes inlaid with semi-precious stones, in the style of ER Ruhlmann, described by the New York Times as art deco's greatest artist.

Usually Mr Hannah's medium is timber - many timbers, chosen for their colours to add contrast and depth to his intricate marquetry.

But of late he has been incorporating stone into his work. His famous million-dollar-plus Hannah Cabinet, which was exhibited in Lismore at the Regional Art Gallery and this year is heading for display at the Chifley Tower in Sydney before going to Parliament House, was a masterpiece of inlaid work with many timbers, stones, shells and even a fragment of French fabric said once to have belonged to Marie Antoinette, incorporated into its design.

The series of art deco boxes he is working on now are mostly made of ebony, with turquoise stones. Two, which sold as soon as they were made and were crafted from Bolivian rosewood with inlaid ribbon stone from Camooweal in Queensland.

Each box has four pillars at its corners, inspired by the Greek Parthenon and its spectacular surrounds of Doric columns.

He had to make special tools to create the miniature columns at the corner of each box.

You wouldn't take Geoff Hannah for a master craftsman if you saw him in his garage workshop in his stubbies and T-shirt, or driving around town in his adored old Mini Cooper - until you looked at some of his finished masterpieces.

He started work at 15 for Brown and Jolly's Lismore furniture business.

"I wish I'd started at 10!" he said. "It was so good for me - they sold everything to do with household furnishings and I got to learn a whole range of stuff, working with cabinet makers, French polishers, piano tuners - I even learnt how to hang Venetian blinds!"

The Hannahs have lived in the same house in Jubilee St, Lismore, for 40 years ago.

"What's been magic for us is our community," Mr Hannah said. "We've worked, lived, brought up our babies and survived all in this community of Lismore, and it has supported us every step of the way."

For the past 30 years, he has held workshops three days a week in his garage, with 25 people attending each week.

Anyone wishing to view Mr Hannah's work, including the art deco boxes and inlaid table, see how he does it and learn how to craft and polish timber and stone can join a workshop by calling 6621 3383.



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