F5: Darren Appiagyei’s Ghanaian Roots, a Unique Toaster Project + More

02.23.24 | By
F5: Darren Appiagyei’s Ghanaian Roots, a Unique Toaster Project + More

Woodturner Darren Appiagyei is a London-based craftsman working with the intrinsic beauty of raw wood and its irregularities be it a knot, crack, the bark, or grain itself. Through these less-than-perfect qualities, he’s able to turn what was once considered flawed into gallery-worthy sculptures. Appiagyei embraces the individually of each piece in his practice, exploring its rawness and texture. With a passion for discovering new woods to work with, he finds much of his inspiration in his own heritage – Ghanaian wood carving.

Appiagyei first visited Ghana in 2019, an experience that allowed him to form a closer bond with family and meet new members while there. The trip included a life-changing visit to Cape Coast Castle, an infamous former slave fortification. “Seeing it up close was quite emotional for me: over three million Ghanaians were captured and forced to stay in the dungeons in the castle until they were traded and left through the famous door of no return,” Appiagyei explains. “It’s an eerie building which left a lasting impression on me. There’s a strong presence when walking through the castle, it’s more than just a building, it’s symbolic of atrocities from the past.”

brown-skinned man wearing a black t-shirt and apron holding a log

Darren Appiagyei \\\ Photo: Gareth Hacker

Not one to take things for granted, Appiagyei explores the small things that are easy to gloss over, borrowing from what we’ve grown accustomed to seeing every day: the woodgrain of a door, the bark on a tree, and different pavement textures. All of these elements and more come together to push the artist forward in his creative journey. Inspiration really is all around us; you only have to stop and look for it.

Among others, Appiagyei thanks his brother for helping him get to this point. “Nothing I’ve done would have happened without the early support of my older brother,” Appiagyei shares. “When I originally studied 3D design as a university student [at UAL Camberwell College of the Arts], my family wasn’t pleased, and one of them even suggested I drop out. But my brother always encouraged me along the way and gave me the confidence to pursue a career in the arts.” Today, he stands as an awardee of the Cockpit Arts/Turners Award (2017), for which he received a studio space where he’s currently based.

When we asked Appiagyei what he might pivot to in his career given the chance, he said he’d become a stone sculptor. The two creative forms share some qualities, as the woodturner sees the time spent at his lathe, and the moments it grants him to ponder and observe, as a transferable skill. “So much of my current work is about the different tones, textures, and complexities of wood, and stone is a similarly alluring and storied material. Someone who carves stone has to understand density as much as form, and the material is connected with structures and buildings; it’s quite fascinating,” Appiagyei adds.

Then again, it says a lot that the craftsman names his most treasured possession as the very first vessel he turned. Appiagyei taught himself how to turn and carve using a lathe through lots of trial and error. “This vessel is a reminder to me that anything is possible with patience and consistency. Whenever I get frustrated or annoyed, I look back at the very first vessel I made, and it simply gives me hope.”

We’re happy to have Darren Appiagyei joining us today for Friday Five!

ornate African stool

Photo: Courtesy of Randa Africa

1. The Ashanti Stool

The Ashanti stool is very much a staple in most Ghanaian households, with many having replicas of the gold stool. The Golden Stool is a sacred symbol of the Ashanti nation, believed to possess the sunsum (soul) of the Ashanti people. These stools were made for chiefs and other important people and were considered important state regalia. Growing up, it was a huge inspiration, it gave me hope and a sense of belonging, even though I didn’t know much about the Ghanaian culture. The Ghanaian stool is bold in appearance, well-constructed, distinctive, and always a talking point when we had visitors to the house.

three abstract toaster models

Thomas Thwaites’ Toaster Project

2. Toaster Project by Thomas Thwaites

Even though it may not be the most visually appealing piece, I was truly inspired by the project. Thomas’s passion and curiosity take the viewer on a journey as he constructs a toaster from scratch. As a student at university, it ignited a fire of inquiry and understanding.

African board game on a white background

Photo: Courtesy of MyBookbasket

3. Oware Board Game

The oware board is a game that I loved growing up as a child. We didn’t have much growing up as a family, nor did we do much as a family; however, I have fond memories of strategizing how to beat my brother. Oware is a popular African game similar to jacks or knuckles using beads. It’s played on a two-rank mandal board. The main objective is to capture more beads than your opponent. Growing up, even when we weren’t playing the game, I would find myself admiring the beautiful tones of the mandala board and the organic finish. In hindsight, I do see how it’s influenced my work though by embracing the rawness of the material.

two vases

Echoes of Amphora: I/19 and II/19 by Eleanor Lakelin, Horse Chestnut Burr, 2019, 25cm x 25cm x 48cm and 16cm x 16cm x 50cm \\\ Photo: Michael Harvey

4. Wood Sculptor Eleanor Lakelin

Eleanor Lakelin’s wooden sculptures feature beautiful textures and are organic in form; an expression of decay and erosion permeate her work. I have the pleasure of calling Eleanor a friend and neighbor at Cockpits. I was hugely inspired by her work before I even met her or saw her sculptures in person. Eleanor’s work inspired me and made me believe it’s possible to have a career as a wood artist. Through the time I’ve known her, it’s just amazing to see how her work has developed. It gives me hope that anything is possible with patience, a curious mind, and time.

stack of colorful patterned Kente cloth

Photo: Courtesy of Africa Imports

5. Kente Cloth

Being of Ghanaian origin, it was hard not to embrace the Kente cloth. It was a staple in my household on Sundays for church. I will be honest, I used to hate having to wear the Kente cloth with its intricate patterns, smooth textures, and vibrant colors. As I’ve gotten order, I have embraced and realized it’s a part of my identity and culture, and I now look at the interwoven cloth strips in awe of the symbolism in the varied patterns expressed in the textile and the bold colors, as well as the pride and confidence I see exuded by people adorned in the kente cloth.



Work by Darren Appiagyei:

raw carved wood

Pyrographic Vessel 10 \\\ Photo: Jenny Catlow

raw carved wood

Pyrographic Vessel 9 \\\ Photo: Jenny Catlow

raw carved wood

Pyrographic Vessel 8 \\\ Photo: Jenny Catlow

raw carved wood

Pyrographic Vessel \\\ Photo: Matthew Warner

Kelly Beall is Director of Branded Content at Design Milk. The Pittsburgh-based writer and designer has had a deep love of art and design for as long as she can remember, from Fashion Plates to MoMA and far beyond. When not searching out the visual arts, she's likely sharing her favorite finds with others. Kelly can also be found tracking down new music, teaching herself to play the ukulele, or on the couch with her three pets – Bebe, Rainey, and Remy. Find her @designcrush on social.