zach salinger

photos by ryan walsh 
STORY by fiora macpherson

In Zach’s mother’s house is a table made of black walnut wood. Every element is precisely crafted. If you were to close your eyes and run your fingers along it, you would not feel a bump.

“I finished the piece and promised to never sell it and give it to my mom. I love coming home to this object that I shaped by hand, every single angle.” 

First and foremost, Zach Salinger does things with care. His work is meticulous, doted upon, from conception to realization. The pieces stand with a gracefulness, reflecting the hours of perfectionism and diligent thought that Zach spends on his craft.

Instead of just making something, I’d much rather make an impeccably designed object, with permanent value.

When he was in seventh grade, his mother took him to Papua New Guinea for two months to follow an anthropologist in her work with local craftspeople. The tribes he was working with made wan legs, sculptures known to give good luck to warriors or to communities during times of trouble.

“The trees in Papua New Guinea are buildings,” Zach says, “The scale is completely different. They can make these sculptures 25 feet tall out of a single piece of wood.”

The anthropologist he shadowed, Nancy Sullivan, was working to help communities maintain their traditional manufacturing method. As a young child, Zach wasn’t able to participate in this production process, but the experience set in motion an appreciation for making, and for the inherent value of workmanship. Zach believes that the quality of an object lies in its significance to the people who either make it or use it. 

This mindset was fostered at the Watermill Center in Long Island, where Zach trained before coming to RISD, under the wing of mentor, Robert Wilson. Wilson would take Zach around the space and discuss each piece individually. They would stop to talk about the aesthetic, but also the context, the process of construction and its cultural value as a work of art. Zach now looks not only to a visual understanding of an item, but to how it will function at every moment it is used. 

Zach’s work is reflective of research, observation and analysis of people’s specific interactions with their surroundings. When he came to RISD, Zach went into furniture design. He developed a process of creating pieces according to an informed foresight, a deliberate consideration of the exact user experience.

“It’s about making the mundane beautiful… Design is ubiquitous, it should be everywhere.”

See more of Zach's work on his site.