Alfred Sharp was born and reared in Nashville, Tennessee, and attended Montgomery Bell Academy and Vanderbilt University. He had enrolled in Vanderbilt’s Law School, but came to the realization that he was not interested in the practice of law. He worked for two and a half years in the Vanderbilt development office, slowly coming to recognize that none of the white-collar professions were appealing.
Casting about aimlessly for a couple of years, he offered to do some simple remodeling for his landlord in lieu of rent. Though having no experience in carpentry, he was able to please this first customer, and more work ensued. One job led to another, and Alf found himself gravitating toward interior trim and simple cabinetry. An aborted geodesic dome project left him with a couple of pieces of specialized machinery, and some time to experiment.
It was clear that this was an activity that both spoke to his heart and called up a strong ability that seemed to reside within. He loved making things with his hands and out of wood! Asking himself, “What would be the ultimate expression of this activity?”, he saw that it was fine furniture. People don’t just walk in and offer to pay you big bucks, however, because you say you want to create fine furniture! Thus began years of taking on all sorts of projects, from a playground slide through kitchen cabinets to the occasional prized furniture commission.
At the beginning of this odyssey, there were very few old men remaining who could pass on the knowledge and techniques of fine hand woodworking. Since it was almost a lost art, Alf read books and experimented. As this process of study continued, it became apparent to him that perhaps the finest furniture ever built, both in terms of artistic style and technical skill, was created in the 18th century. And these remarkable tours de force had been made entirely with hand tools, power equipment of any sort not yet having been invented! This was the well-spring to plumb, and Alf began visiting the prominent museums and collections, and picking the brains of collectors, dealers, and scholars in antique furniture.
Ironically during all this time, in an effort to actually make a living for his family, Alf had been growing his business in an entirely opposite direction. By 1980, he had a 13,500 sq. ft. shop, a quarter-million dollars worth of machinery, and twenty-five production employees, cranking out fairly low-end furniture. Sitting behind a desk and talking on the phone most of the time, he was hardly ever even touching a piece of wood. Was this not what he had tried to escape a dozen years earlier? He was miserable, and to make matters worse, a few truly significant fine furniture commissions were being offered to him, if he could somehow find the time. It’s not hard to guess the outcome. The factory was sold at the first opportunity, and Alf built a small woodworking shop next to his home, constructed around the premise of using primarily original-period hand tools, large enough only to allow a maximum of two assistants.
Since then he has concentrated on museum-quality, one-of-a-kind furniture, primarily in the 18th century American style. Also, he works in 19th and 20th century historical styles, as well as designing and building a number of pieces which merge traditional values and proportions with contemporary idioms and exotic woods.
- “Best of Tennessee, 2002” : Tenn Artist Craftsman Assoc., Chattanooga Tn.
- WilsonArt Exhibition 2003 : Philadelphia ,Pa.
- “Art of Tennessee” 2003 : Tenn. State Museum
- Oaklands Mansion, Carnton House, and other fine public and private homes and offices from New York to California.
- Fellow – 2004 FAIC/WAG study trip to France
- Exhibiter – “Curvitures” sponsored by the Furniture Society, 2004 – 2005;
The Parthenon, Nashville, 2004;
Master Woodworkers Show, Knoxville, Tn., 1998 – 2011
- President – Cumberland Furniture Guild, 2002 –
- Board of directors – Cannon County Art Center
- Exhibiter – Contemporary Classics – Selections from the Society for American Period Furniture, Savannah, Ga. – 2006
- Board of Trust – The Furniture Society , 2006 –
- Instructor – O’more College of Art and Design
- Board of Directors – Tennessee Association of Craft Artists
- Cartouche Award 2008 from the Society of Period Furnituremakers
- Studio Furniture – Today ‘ Leading Woodworkers
- Cover article, Woodshop News, Nov. 2006
- Cover article, American Period Furniture, 2008
- Board of Trust, Furniture Society, 2006 – President, 2011-2012
- Presenter – Winterthur Antiques Forum 2012
- Presenter – SAPFM summer ’12 conference Museum of Southern Decorative Arts.
- Exhibitor – A Tradition of Craft, Connecticut Historical Society 2012
- Fellow – AFTAB collaboration, Aiguines, France
His work has been featured in Colonial Homes magazine, Southern Living magazine, the book Architecture of the Old South , Fine Woodworking magazine, Woodwork magazine, the book The Tennessee Sampler, Historic Preservation magazine, Furniture Studio 3 and other publications. In addition, he has taught a number of courses and seminars in his field, and demonstrated at various historical festivals.