Pierre Chapo, who was born in Paris on July 1927, initially was interested in becoming a professional painter. However after a chance meeting with a shipbuilder who introduced him to wood and woodcrafts, Chapo changed his focus and decided to study architectural studies at the prestigious École nationale supérieure des Beaux-Arts in Paris. After graduating Chapo and his wife, the sculptor and painter Nicole Lormier, started to travel extensively through Scandinavia and Central America. Among the many places the couple visited was the home and studio of Frank Lloyd Wright in Taliesin West. A visit that had a lasting influence on Chapo’s future work and designs.
After returning home Chapo began to create his own designs at the end of the 1950s and started marketing them with the assistance of his wife. It didn’t take long before his designs attracted a devoted clientele. Interestingly one of his first clients was Samuel Beckett for whom he created the ‘’Godot bed’’ named after Becketts famous play. Initially Chapo sold his work through the ‘’Galerie Chapo’’, a high-end shop that he and Nicole found in 1958 on boulevard de l'Hôpital in Paris, where along his own creations he displayed the work of other craftsmen and artists like Isamu Noguchi. With Noguchi Chapo shared his organic approach to arts and crafts and both designers resisted the stark industrial look that was dominant in the post-war period under the influence of socialism. Chapo wanted more than sheer 'utility' and believed that furniture design should be something that was aesthetically pleasing. He championed designs that were individual, timeless and had a universal quality. He was a big advocate of the importance of the golden ratio.
In 1960 Chapo was awarded the gold medal of the city of Paris at an exhibition of arts and crafts. Most of his work at that time was produced at a workshop in Clamart. However, by the late 1960s Chapo wanted a new challenge and he began to depart from his successful designs. Influenced by the work of Charlotte Perriand, whom he admired a lot, he began to rethink his whole approach to furniture. In 1968 Chapo left Paris with his family and moved to Gordes, near Avignon in the Provence. Here Chapo was inspired by the Provencal landscape and his designs became even more anchored in tradition, as well as even more rugged and bold. In Gordes he opened his own furniture business, the "Chapo Gordes SA”, which is still in business today and is overseen by his son Fidel.
Along his design work Chapo promoted his views in a series of lectures, in France and abroad, on woodworking and woodcraft and urged students to preserve the traditional crafts. In 1983, the designer was diagnosed with the debilitating Lou Gehrig's disease and died in 1987, just before his sixtieth birthday.
During his 30 year career Chapo never lost his commitment to the traditional crafts of cabinet-making and joinery and believed that they were essential for great furniture. His work can be seen as a fusion of modern design and traditional craftsmanship. In all his work the love of wood and its qualities is evident. ~HG
Pierre Chapo, A modern craftsman, Magen H. Gallery, New York 2017