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Western’s modern chair collection on display in the VU Gallery

Yes, you can sit in them

Harry Bertoia’s “Children’s Wire Chair” on display in Western Washington University’s Viking Union Gallery in Bellingham, Wash., on Feb. 6, 2023. Bertoia is most widely known for his work in jewelry making. He used his metalworking skills to create these children’s chairs. // Photo by Aubrey Black

Out from the depths of Western Washington University’s storage space comes the Western modern chair collection. Co-curated by Carson McCully and L.E. Delzer, “You Should Sit Down For This” is on display in the Viking Union Gallery until Feb. 16.

Dorothy E. A. Ramsland was the chair of the home economics department in 1959 and the founder of the interior design major at Western. She was captivated by Scandinavian art and during her 15 academic tours of Norway, Sweden and Denmark, she amassed a collection of books, jewelry and chairs.

“She wanted her students to interact with real design,” said Hafthor Yngvason, director of the Western Gallery. “Specifically chairs because they’re not just something you look at. You can’t see how a chair feels from a picture in a book.”

You must sit in them. Visitors are not only allowed but encouraged to take a seat in certain chairs that the VU Gallery has on display.

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Two 1967 Pila chairs on display in Western Washington University’s Viking Union Gallery in Bellingham, Wash., on Feb. 6, 2023. They had to be chained to the ground due to their popularity when they were first shown at the Milan Furniture Fair. // Photo by Aubrey Black

Kate Yeoman, a fourth-year student at Western, said “You Should Sit Down For This” has changed their perspective on chairs.

“I don’t think I ever thought of furniture as a form of art,” Yeoman said. “But it makes sense that anything that’s designed is inherently creative.”

Carson McCully is the director of the VU Gallery as well as the co-curator for this collection.

To create this exhibit, both McCully and Delzer put months of research into getting to know each chair and its creator.

“[These chairs] were in hiding, but they’re so unique and fun,” McCully said. “Why not make a whole show around them?”

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Jorge Ferrari Hardoy’s “Butterfly, Model No. 198” on display in Western Washington University’s Viking Union gallery in Bellingham, Wash., on Feb. 6, 2023. Hardoy only sold this chair for three years and discontinued the design due to the overwhelming number of knockoffs in the market. // Photo by Aubrey Black

Some of the chairs, such as the iconic Herman and Miller Eams Lounge Chair, are from Ramsland’s original collection, while pieces like Maya Lin’s “The Earth is (Not) Flat” are a new purchase specifically for this exhibition.

“I wanted to bring something to the VU Gallery that wasn’t just painting or sculpture,” McCully said. “We wanted to make a new perspective on what could be considered art.”

The chairs aren’t just art. Each chair has a story.

The VU Gallery has two colored plastic “Pila” chairs on display. When prototypes of these chairs were first shown in 1967, they were so popular that guests at the Milan Furniture Fair took samples without permission. 

“I think everyone should come to see [the chairs] if they have the chance,” McCully said. “There’s something for everybody.”

“You Should Sit Down For This” will be on display in the VU Gallery until Feb. 16. The VU Gallery is open Monday-Friday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Aubrey Black

Aubrey Black (she/they) is a second-year news-ed major at Western. She enjoys making Spotify playlists and perusing used bookstores. 

You can contact her at

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