Geoff Hannah is a master craftsman who works with wood. He is a supremely affable bloke; warm, friendly and totally unpretentious.

He is also a man of many skills; working with wood is one, and telling a yarn is another. At the moment these yarns are hinged around his most recent work, The Hannah Cabinet, one of the most valuable and finely crafted pieces of furniture in Australia.

Over his 50-year career, Geoff has poured himself into increasingly complex, uncompromised pieces.

Time and the expense of quality materials are no deterrent when it comes to realising a work to a state of perfection.

Unlike many fine furniture makers, Geoff has not worked on a commission since the mid 1980s, preferring instead to devote his time to major projects, often over a period of several years.

Freedom from commission has enabled Geoff to exercise absolute control over the artistic content of this work.

The Hannah Cabinet is the most ambitious piece of furniture that Geoffrey Hannah has made to date.

It is the result of over 5000 hours of labour and contains 34 fine timbers and veneers, 17 types of stone, four types of shell, and 23-carat gold leaf.

It has 18 doors and 140 drawers. The predominant timber used is Brazilian mahogany, with solid ebony columns and 23-carat gold gilding. Other materials include tortoise, abalone and mother-of-pearl shells, jasper, agate, tiger eye, malachite, lapis lazuli and ruby.

The work contains exquisite, highly detailed marquetry depicting birds and flora. Some of these images are clear to view, others are carefully hidden, under drawers and within the various nooks and crannies of the cabinet.

The process of looking at The Hannah Cabinet is one of continual discovery. It is designed so you can open out each of the successive layers to discover cabinets within the cabinet and drawers within drawers.

A chorus of ‘ohs’ and ‘ahs’ typically accompanies Geoff’s showings of the cabinet. People listen open-mouthed as he tells the story of how it was made.

Geoff has the story down pat. He tells his audience about the timbers used and various other materials that he has sourced and collected over the years.

He talks shows unexpected details and talks about the love of his craft that drives him.

He also shows the cabinet’s grace. It is well-crafted to the point that the gliding of the doors in and out are part of its beauty.

Unfortunately for most of us, the price tag makes Geoff’s work out of reach to purchase. That said, expense has not hindered Geoff’s ability to sell his major pieces.

Geoff’s highest-selling work to date is the Australiana Cabinet which sold to a Belgian buyer for his private art collection for nearly $500,000.

Another cabinet resides in the private entrance hall in the Governor-General’s residence in Yarralumla, Canberra.

The Hannah Cabinet bears a price tag of $1.35 million. This price was worked out by Geoff, who, like any good tradesman, kept a careful log book detailing hours spent on the piece and the expense of materials.

If we consider this breakdown we see the cabinet is cheap at its price.

Geoff’s woodworking career started at age 15 he got a job as an apprentice cabinet-maker with the Lismore furniture store Brown & Jolly, where he worked for 10 years, and learnt the foundations of his craft.

In 1973 he left to establish his own business, doing restoration work and making small items of furniture. He still operates out of the same workshop in Lismore today.

He sees the increased complexity of his work as a natural progression, the result of his urge to challenge himself and learn.

In 1980 Geoff’s talents were encouraged when he was awarded a Churchill Fellowship to study fine furniture in Europe.

More recently, Geoff’s contribution to craftsmanship in Australia and as an ambassador for Lismore and Australia was recognised with an Honoury Fellowship from Southern Cross University, awarded in September this year.

Awards for a worthy, committed craftsman and all-round good bloke.

The Hannah Cabinet is currently on display at Lismore Regional Gallery, alongside other works that demonstrate Geoff’s astounding skill and vision.

The exhibition, Geoffrey Hannah, Master Craftsman, continues to 31 October. For further information, visit www.lismoregallery.org

Lismore Regional Gallery is located at 131 Molesworth Street, Lismore City, NSW. The gallery open to the public Tuesday to Saturday 10am-4pm, Thursdays 10am-6pm.

* Story and picture courtesy of the Lismore Regional Gallery.