About Robert A. Harman

Robert A. Harman

I was born in Aberdeen, Scotland in 1946 and am the oldest of seven children. After 4 miserable years in the British Army I eventually made it to Aberdeen University and studied History and Sociology and wrote my Sociology thesis on the "Uses of humor and laughter in everyday social interactions". In 1978 I came to the US to continue my studies in humor but the academic life was not for me and so at the age of 39 I started to teach myself upholstery. This made perfect sense since my earliest childhood memories are about making things. My father was a plumber and could fix anything. His father was a ship builder so working with my hands was natural. I even made my own embossed leather suitcase before coming to the USA. I have also, with my wife Kay's able help, refurbished our 120 year old house which was in sore need of care and attention when we bought it soon after marrying in 1982. We have a 29 year old daughter, Asia, who has a BFA  in photography and an MLS from Indiana University. Kay is a massage therapist . When not working we all love to travel.

How I got into this:
After years as a self taught upholsterer I had the great good fortune to meet Richard Sullivan. He was retired and it soon became evident that he was a quiet unassuming master upholsterer who had been working and teaching upholstery for over 40 years. I was more than happy and willing to become his apprentice. Over the years Richard enabled me to become the skilled craftsman I am today. He passed away a few years ago and I lost not only a teacher but a dear friend and one of the great practical jokers of all time. It was always a joy to be around him. Although I can thank Richard for my upholstery skill level I'm not sure who I can thank for the style of furniture I make. At its simplest what happened was that I simply started to play with the fabrics and the furniture slowly evolved in shape and color. I have a Bloomington cabinet maker friend, John Rinne, who makes my furniture frames after I design them. I do all the rest of the work: the painting, springing, padding, cutting, piecing, sewing and eventual fabric application. I never pre-design a piece of furniture. The appearance just evolves in the making. My main job is to stay focused and let the fabrics guide me. It is a very meditative process which suits me. I work in a silent universe with no music or radio. I love music but it is too distracting to work with.  There is no intelligent designer in my work, I just let each piece evolve.

My major breakthrough, with respect to the look of my furniture, came many years ago while looking through a fabric book. I was suddenly confronted by this intensely vivid yellow velvet. The color was so strong and powerful it scared me. Up until that point there was no yellow in my work. Rather than be intimidated by a color I bought some of that yellow fabric and my color palette was immediately transformed. The yellow dragged in all the other fabrics I now adore.

For many years I had a very successful upholstery business. However, I increasingly wanted to "play" more and make my own furniture. Eventually I started exhibiting my work in many of the most elite juried craft and furniture shows on the east coast and that truly transformed my world. I discovered that people love my furniture style and wanted to live with it. For that I am constantly thankful. Many years ago I realized that the thing that transcends humor and laughter is joy. I am so happy to have followed my bliss because in doing so I am constantly overjoyed and delighted at work. I also love seeing the smiles my work brings to peoples' faces when they encounter it. I'm spreading my joy. I know I'm not the only one who thinks this but I often feel that I am the luckiest man in the world. I have a loving wife, a well balanced fun loving daughter and I get to go to my quiet studio and see what's going to manifest today. Life is good!

Robert Harman


1977, Aberdeen University, Scotland. MA in Sociology.

1981, Indiana University, MS in Telecommunications

Special Exhibitions

Oct.2001- May 2002 - Objects for Use: Handmade by Design. American Crafts Museum NYC. Show of finest in American crafts. Organized by Paul J. Smith of the American Crafts Museum in New York City

June 2002- June 2003 - The Right Stuff: A four city traveling exhibition of contemporary American upholstered furniture organized by The Furniture Society