Sabiha Mujtaba said the first chair she made was a rocker designed for a friend who was pregnant. It depicted a mother and child, with animals. It marked the start of a series of unusual chairs the Clarkston woodworker has designed and made.

“My background is in sculpture,” Mujtaba said. “As a woodworker/furniture maker/carver, I have not focused solely on making chairs. I have made a few, though.”

One of her pieces, “Dancer Chair,” reflects “the Bharatanatyam dance gestures and clothing of a dancer from India,” Mujtaba said, noting that it was inspired by the fact that chairs have an anthropomorphic terminology — back, legs and arms.

Mujtaba was born in Karachi, Pakistan. Her family moved to London, England, where she was raised and educated. There, she studied sculpture at Hammersmith College of Art and Design from 1969 to 1972.

In 1981, she moved to Atlanta, where she met friends Anne and Timothy Sutherland. She began an informal apprenticeship in Tim’s woodworking studio and studied furniture making. Since 1986, Mujtaba has been designing custom wood furniture and installations through her company, Chysalis Woodworks.

“Sculpture is a creative expression,” she said, “and wood is just one medium which gives that expression a physical appearance. When the medium and expression are in sync/harmony/balance, then there is no difference.”

Mujtaba uses traditional techniques with power and hand tools to carve her works. She combines various woods, solids and veneers, and often embellishes the surfaces with burnt, painted or stained designs.

Her work has been featured in galleries, festivals and shows throughout the southeastern U.S., including the Chastain Art Gallery, the Decatur Arts Festival, the Museum of Design and Spruill Gallery in the Atlanta area, and the Master Woodworkers Show in Knoxville, Tennessee. She also had pieces shown at Atlanta’s High Museum of Art in conjunction with The Herter Brothers furniture exhibition.

In 1998, Mujtaba was a featured artist on the Lynette Jennings Design Show on the Discovery Channel, and in 2001, she took first prize at the Decatur Arts Festival Juried Show. She teaches at crafts schools, including Penland School of Craft in Penland, N.C., and locally at Highland Woodworking in Atlanta.

In September, she is scheduled to be included among 37 Southeastern artists from nine states who will show works during the American Craft Council’s Craft Week LIVE: POP-UP in Atlanta.

Art is a family affair for Mujtaba and her daughter, Aalia, who specializes in making jewelry. Aalia’s work will also be featured in the LIVE: POP-UP. “Even though Aalia and I have not collaborated, we are each other’s sounding boards,” Mujtaba said. “We ask and share opinions about our projects. I think we have similar aesthetics and do influence each other.”

Mujtaba said that she thoroughly enjoys working on commissioned pieces and designing a piece in collaboration with clients to create a unique piece that gives them, “hopefully, a lifetime of pleasure. Each job has surprising challenges that feel like springboard to the next one,” she said.

The longest project she’s undertaken was “14 Stations of the Cross” for All Saints Church in Knoxville. It took two years and “it was challenging on almost all fronts,” Mujtaba said. “From the subject research and designing to logistics of working in my small studio in Atlanta to carving small figures [it led to] more than a few sleepless, anxious nights. I certainly experienced and learned a great deal.”

Still, she said it was good for her at that time. “It felt like an accomplishment, especially as the client is satisfied.”

As to where Mujtaba’s art is taking her in the future, she said that chair-making is unlikely to be a priority, but if an interesting one-off commission presents itself, “I will consider it.”

She stressed that the LIVE: POP-UP is a great opportunity for artists, artisans and craftspeople to show their work. Mujtaba plans to attend the event one of the days, and to be present at the opening. “I’m looking forward to seeing creativity at its best, and I hope to chat about craft with visitors,” she said.

To see a range of her art, visit chrysaliswoodworks.com or follow Mujtaba on Instagram at #chrysaliswoodworks.

INFO ABOUT CRAFT WEEK

The American Craft Council’s Atlanta/Southeast Craft Week LIVE: POP-UP, Sept. 23-25, will run in conjunction with its online Craft Week marketplace that begins Monday, Sept. 20. More than 200 artists from across the U.S. will participate in the virtual event. 

Thirty-seven Southeast artists from nine states, including Sabiha Mujtaba of Clarkston, are scheduled to show works in the ACC’s Craft Week LIVE: POP-UP in late September. The event is part of the Atlanta Craft Show.

The LIVE opening night reception — Thursday, Sept. 23, 5:30-8:30 p.m. — and the two-day LIVE event — Friday, Sept. 24 and Saturday, Sept. 25, 11 a.m.-7:00 p.m. — will be held in Buckhead Village at 286 Buckhead Avenue in Atlanta. 

For more info and details, visit craftcouncil.org/show/season/atlantasoutheast-craft-week.

Kathy Dean

Kathy Dean is a freelance writer and editor based in metro Atlanta.