From his home workshop in Lismore, master craftsman Geoff Hannah has built an international reputation for producing opulent pieces befitting another era.
Story Amanda Burdon Photo Clayton Lloyd
Art is full of contradictions, which is possibly why “rough-hewn” Geoff Hannah creates intricate pieces of exquisite furniture with calloused fingers the size of sausages. And why a kid who grew up in the bush carving shanghais and toy boats is captivated by European furniture of the 16th and 17th century and drinks tea from a porcelain cup.
“The tea cup is one of my few indulgences, except for Belgian beer,” says Geoff, a smile never far from his lively eyes. He’s back home in Lismore, NSW, after a rare holiday in Russia and Germany with his childhood sweetheart and wife of 49 years, Rhonda, and will be enjoying a few of those beers soon to celebrate his 70th birthday.
But for now there are more pressing matters at hand. His grandest work, the magnificent Hannah Cabinet he spent six-and-a-half years crafting – from 34 different Australian and exotic timbers and veneers and 17 precious and semi-precious stones – is on display at the Lismore Regional Gallery and the community is trying to raise the $1 million price tag to add it to the gallery’s permanent collection. Every month he personally downs chisels and planes to open it to a wide-eyed gallery of admirers.
Edmund Capon, former director of the Art Gallery of New South Wales, described the Flemish-style cabinet as a “masterpiece and a constant source of wonder to all those fortunate enough to see it”. A labyrinth of 140 drawers within drawers decorated with elaborate inlays of flora and fauna, it features gilding, lapis lazuli and ruby in ziosite, silk fabric from Marie Antoinette’s bedroom, and Geoff’s signature secret compartments.
The precise location of these hidden drawers, deep within the cabinet’s heart, sometimes even eludes their maker. “I lost one drawer for a couple of years,” Geoff says with a laugh. “I like a little mystery and surprise in my pieces and I get a real buzz out of opening the cabinet for people. Little kids love it. It’s like a puzzle to them.”
This story excerpt is from Issue #123
Outback Magazine: February/March 2019