Jeff Martin has always found community in uplifting his favorite designers, especially those on the rise. Though he technically falls into that category himself, the trained woodworker avidly collects experimental pieces from emerging and established talents, often showcasing the former’s work alongside his own at design fairs. “We have a growing collection of insane work from my heroes stacked behind my desk,” Martin told Surface in 2019. “I find it encouraging to have work by my icons in my zone.” So it’s no surprise that the Vancouver local—who manages Jeff Martin Joinery and Excavated Vessels, an offshoot for dazzling blown glass sculptures—has taken things one step further. Enter Alpenglow Projects, an in-studio gallery that he christened as an extension of his ongoing patronage of contemporary designers.
The gallery’s initial roster reflects Martin’s deep fascination with ontology: “how things come to be, and what they become over the course of time,” he says. “It’s conversion, transformation, and how we think about it in a larger-scale construct of time and form.” He gravitates toward designers that unpack these concepts, acknowledging their own interventions to create new methods of dealing with elemental materials. In particular, he cites Jeffrey Forrest and Brendan Ravenhill’s clever use of engineering to engage with design. Bari Ziperstein and Dan John Anderson, meanwhile, “resolve their specific materials in new ways, Dan making hard material so imperceptibly soft and Bari using clay to make at-scale, heavy-duty furniture,” he says. “When you dig into our roster, playfulness guides these very serious practices.”
Martin had considered launching a gallery for nearly four years, but when the coronavirus all but canceled this year’s design calendar, he found time to make Alpenglow Projects a reality. He hopes the venture satisfies a niche with the independent design community that, as he noticed, had started displaying “a huge malaise” for trade shows. (His East Coast peers, such as Fernando Mastrangelo, Eskayel, and Kin & Company, who launched their own shows during NYCxDesign 2019, may vouch for that.) “Fair fatigue and cancellations forced me to reconsider how to show my work, and growing into a larger production facility with a perfect space for a showroom buildout made me realize I could be doing more for others as well.” The space also doubles as studio storage during off-season and is relatively inexpensive to maintain, affording designers a greater cut from sales than they’d normally receive from retail.
And the response has been positive—so far, Alpenglow has already shipped works to Toronto, Hong Kong, London, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Montreal, Germany, and New York. Though he admits the allure of collectible design hasn’t captivated Vancouver just yet, “the community, in a global sense, is looking for the contributions of these artists. And I think people also want to see artists and designers paid well enough to live.” When circumstances permit, he hopes to establish a residency; he’s also adding “a couple of absolute legends” to the roster for an upcoming exhibition, though details are confidential. “I’m hoping that the gallery we’re building is as simple, holistic, and well thought out as the designs that it sells.”
It’s easy to understand why Martin named his new venture after Alpenglow, the rare optical phenomenon that shrouds mountainous horizons in a reddish glow. “It requires the stars to align,” he says, pointing to how the singular nature of the work he represents often requires some alchemy. “I wanted to share a general idea of illumination—the apex meeting of nature, sciences, and craft in design.” And of his three projects, he considers Alpenglow the most authentic to himself in a human sense. “They’re all sincere formats of my design work, but there’s something very pure about curating others’ work and removing my own ego from it.”
Alpenglow Projects is open by appointment only at 260-1000 Parker St in Vancouver, Canada.