ANU art graduate plays a part in US-French diplomacy

ANU School of Art graduate Rohan Ward has found himself involved in international diplomacy after designing and building a table for United States President Barack Obama.

Ward's table, made from cherry, oak and walnut and with a sunken middle section that holds a replica key to the Bastille, was given by President Obama to French President Francois Hollande earlier this year.

Now based in Chicago, Ward said some of the wood in his creation came from the home of the first US President George Washington.

"It's still very surreal in a way," Ward said of his commission from The White House.

"But it's kind of two mind sets of feeling. It is another job, and that's kind of the humble way of looking at the line of work I'm in as far as building furniture.

"The other side of it is what stature it is, and what an amazing experience to be close to that circle of people and delivering my kind of art.

"The thing I've loved the most is that my art and craft has made it into that level of an office, and has been recognised and appreciated. It's really an amazing feeling."

Ward, who graduated from the ANU in 1999, was inspired to study art after watching his father build sculptures. He also credits his career success to the late George Ingham, who ran the wood workshop at the ANU School of Art.

"He essentially was the catalyst to get me on my way as a craftsman and keeping that idea of producing fine woodwork to his level," Ward says.

"I started my career out there near Cuppacumbalong with Myles Gostelow who also graduated from the School of Art. He's still got the workshop and it's just funny how it's ended up here. I haven't forgotten my roots and obviously the ANU and the Art School is a big part of that."

Ward said he was surprised to be asked to design and make a table for President Obama. He put some designs together, and then sent a scale model to The White House which ended up on the President's desk in the Oval Office.

He began work on the tale in the New Year, completing it in just four weeks before rushing it to Washington DC in February for presentation to the French President.

"I had to drive it out there myself with my wife. We battled snowstorms and slippery roads all the way from Chicago to Washington and it was a 12 or 13 hour drive. And we literally drove it out there and straight to the White House, through security and it got there safe and sound.

"After building it for four weeks, it was nice to see it at its finished destination."

Ward and his wife ended up being invited to the state lunch where they met US Vice President Joe Biden, US Secretary of State John Kerry and French President Francois Hollande himself.

Ward says the commission is a high-point in his career, and one which will be difficult to match, although he is available if any other world leaders need a table.

"I tell you what, if any other world leaders are willing to have some tables made, maybe so. But it's pretty hard to top that one," he says.

To view more of Rohan's work, check out his website.