Woodard Furniture Exhibit
The Shiawassee Arts Center invites you to
Mark Your Calendars for this Special Exhibition of 146 years of Woodard Furniture
June 1 - July 29, 2012
From the Exhibit Reception
In the Beginning . . .
In 1866, Lyman E. Woodward and his brother, Warren Woodward (note the "w" in the names) of New York State, purchased a planing mill from the White brothers for $3,500. To manufacture wood furniture, the Woodward Brothers added a two-story brick building adjoining the planing mill on the site of today's Owosso City Hall (note the diagonal steel beam of the old bridge across Main Street). The photo shows the 1885 dedication of the building, which burned in 1898 along with the planing mill and other downtown businesses.
In 1866 the Woodard Brothers began their business by making window and door sashes, dressers and beds and pine boxes (caskets). By 1882 caskets were being made on a larger scale and the Owosso Casket Company was formed. In 1885, around the time this photograph of a Labor Day parade was taken, the factory was built on South Elm Street and still stands today. At one time the Owosso Casket Company was the largest casket manufacturer in the United States. Two U.S. Presidents, William McKinley and Benjamin Harrison were buried in Woodard caskets in 1901.
This photo was taken sometime between 1866 and 1898 of the employees of the Woodard Brothers Planing Mill. The mill was operated by power from the mill race that diverted water from the Shiawassee River along what is now Water Street.
Three years after the Woodard brothers built a two-story brick building on Main Street adjoining the planing mill in 1885 commenced a series of unfortunate events that would have discouraged and overcome a family with less perseverance. In 1888, the Owosso Casket Company on Elm Street was destroyed by fire, and then rebuilt. Then a second fire in 1898, which was disastrous to other Owosso businesses as well, razed the planing mill and furniture factory. The only thing remaining of the original factory and mill was its huge brick chimney shown in this photo. It stood for 24 years until 1922 when several hundred people gathered to watch it crumble to the ground as city crews demolished it. Owosso City Hall was built two years later on the site in 1924.
In 1902 construction was completed on two new Woodard factories and a mill on South Elm Street where the furniture manufacturing business continued until 1995, moving to its present location on South Delaney Road. This photo of the 1902 Woodard factory was taken a day after the famous cyclone that struck Owosso November 11, 1911, supposedly at 11:11pm. The high winds killed two people and left more than a million dollars damage in its wake. The Woodard buildings suffered severe damage and dozens of wood dressers and beds were lost due to the cyclone.
Around 1920 this lovely home called FairOaks was built by Fred & Martha Woodard at 900 West Oliver Street in Owosso. The home is now owned by William Mitchell. At the time the house was built Fred was president of both the Owosso Casket Company and Woodard Furniture Company. Fred died in 1933 and Martha was nearly 102 years old when she passed away in 1973. Fred Woodard and Frederick Frieseke, who became Owosso's famous impressionist painter, were boyhood friends. It was due to Martha's suggestion and encouragement on a 1925 visit to Frieseke and his family at their home in Normandy that the artist agreed to donate a painting to the city of Owosso. The painting, "Lady with a Sunshade", c.1910, is on loan by the city to the Shiawassee Arts Center where it is displayed in the Frieseke Gallery.
Right across the street from Fred & Martha was the 1920 home of Lee & Sadie Woodard at 825 West Oliver Street. Lee was Fred's younger brother and at that time he served as the furniture designer and plant manager of the Woodard Furniture Company. As a designer Lee drew national recognition for his work and he pioneered the idea of using wrought iron in outdoor furniture. After the liquidation of the company in 1938, Lee and his sons, Joseph, Russell and Lyman II established Lee L. Woodard and Sons company, and began manufacturing the wrought iron furniture that became nationally and then internationally known.
Design history was made in 1940 when the Orleans furniture collection was introduced --- as gracefully curved as French furniture, yet light and open in scale and restrained in ornamentation. The Cabriole leg is doubly curved and normally found on the front leg of a chair. The simple oak leaf and acorn motif symbolizes strength and durability and identifies this design, which was one of Woodard's best sellers for decades. This photo was taken in 1968 at the then home of Mr. & Mrs. Joseph Woodard on West Oliver Street.
Golf Legend Arnold Palmer Was Spokesman for Woodard
In July, 1978, Woodard introduced the Arnold Palmer collection of contemporary casual furniture. Palmer visited Owosso and played golf at the Owosso Country Club with employees from the factory. Dolly Woodard (her husband, Joseph Woodard, died in 1971) is pictured with Winnie & Arnold Palmer on her patio. The furniture is Woodard Mayfield design.
For 146 years high quality Woodard furniture has been manufactured in Owosso. Recognizing the historical significance and contribution to the American furniture industry of the Owosso-based Woodard Company, a two-month major exhibition will be presented at the Shiawassee Arts Center, June 1-July 29. SAC, which is celebrating its 40th anniversary in 2012, is partnering with the Woodard Company, a subsidiary of Litex, and Woodard family members to create an exhibit that will bring pride and inspiration to Owosso residents and bring hundreds of visitors to our community.
The exhibit will be held throughout the main floor of the Arts Center. On display will be Woodard furniture designs that cover three centuries beginning with the wood chairs and bedroom sets that were made in the late 1800's, continuing with the wrought iron designs of the 1930's-1960's (including chairs that are in the permanent collections of the Smithsonian and the Cooper-Hewitt Museums), through today's metal and aluminum designs.
The Shiawassee Arts Center is located at 206 Curwood Castle Drive in Owosso and is open Tuesday through Sunday, 1-5pm. The Arts Center features the artwork of local and statewide artists in eight galleries including the Frieseke Gallery and a specialty Gift Shop. The public is welcome and there is no admission charge. The Shiawassee Arts Council, celebrating its 40th anniversary in 2012, is a non-profit corporation whose mission is to encourage participation and appreciation of the arts. For more information call the Arts Center at 989.723.8354.