When Ira Keer, I.A.Keer – Art of Furniture, Minneapolis, MN, started his journey to build a gallery donation box for Somerset Art Association, Bedminster, NJ, little did he know that it would take three years to complete.

Not only did it take three years, Keer had to coordinate among a host of volunteers who donated material, labor and time.

This labor of love came about when Keer and Nancy O’Brien, formally a design architect, entered a contest for the Minnesota Museum of Art. They submitted a conceptual drawing, but their entry did not win. Keer then decided to post it on his Web site as a study for commission. That was in 1992. Nearly 11 years later, the Somerset Art Association approached him about buying the work.

“They were doing online Web searches because they were interested in getting a gallery donation box to raise funds not only for their gallery, but their art education school, as well,” Keer says. “They asked me if the product was for sale. I explained the situation and they were interested in commissioning it.”

However, it became apparent that the association had limited funds from which to work. “They were looking at purchasing something for $500,” Keer says. The donation box is 7-feet tall and weights close to 400 pounds — it was more than $500 could cover, and when it was shipped to the association in December 2006, it was insured for $10,000.

Yet, despite their limited budget, Keer says that he thought the design was exciting and he did not want to pass up the opportunity to work on this project.

“The concept of this design is about vessel and journey. The boathouse vessel represents the institution of art and the journey is the symbolic creation of art made possible through the free-spirited contribution of the artist,” Keer says. The free-form sail illustrates the artist and his creative process, he adds.

So they negotiated further and Somerset offered to pay for the materials if he helped them out by cutting them a deal.

Keer convinced many of the local artisans he collaborates with to participate in the project, including Robert Kinghorn, a master craftsman.

Kinghorn and Keer teamed up to execute the project with Kinghorn responsible for managing. “Bob’s role was production and my role was the design, politic and contract end, as well as creating the fabrication drawings, blueprints and specifications,” Keer notes.

Kinghorn did a lot of the work himself. When-ever the technology of his shop was outstripped, the work was farmed out to someone else for jobs, such as water jet cutting and silk screening.

Other participating artisans included: Jeff Trish — A212 Digital Creations; Ron Beltz — JIT Waterjet Services; and Kevin Dziewcznski — Serigraphics Sign Systems.

Donated materials for the project included Valchromat colored fiberboard, ARPA plastic laminate, weathered wood, 3-Foam eco-resin panels, steel with chemical patina, stainless with brushed finish, carved foam with resin and patina surface, silk screen, natural stones with sand-blasted text, concealed swivel casters and hand-rubbed lacquer on MDF.

For more information, visit www.artoffurniture.com.

Ira Keer, left, and Robert Kinghorn, right, created this Donation Box for the Somerset Art Association located in Bedminster, NJ. -- Photo by Peter Lee

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