Student Perspectives on the Art Collection


Permanent link for Mathias Alten's Connection to Furniture City on October 22, 2020

Student Perspective Provided By:

Erin Harshberger
Major: English and Education
Minor: Political Science
Class of 2021

In preparation for the exhibition MATHIAS J. ALTEN: AN AMERICAN ARTIST AT THE TURN OF THE CENTURY that traveled to The Dennos Museum Center at Northwestern Michigan College in Traverse City, September 20, 2020 through January 31, 2021, the #GVSU Art Gallery team, including staff and students, gathered stories and information about Alten's life and work that create a vivid portrait of the artist. Here, Erin Harshberger, GVSU class of 2021, reflects on Alten's role in the furniture industry of early 20th Century Grand Rapids and the lasting legacy of that period.

'Magazine Cover, Commonwealth, Cabinet Maker'
Mathias Alten
Courtesy of Grand Valley State University Special Collections & University Archives

"In the early 1900s Grand Rapids was a leader in fine, handcrafted furniture production due to the availability of lumber and skilled immigrant workers settling in the city. There was a semi-annual furniture market that attracted wholesale buyers from across the country, which brought on the title “Furniture City”. At the time, cabinet makers were both workmen and merchants, so it’s likely that the man on the cover of this magazine is both. The timing of this project; researching the life and work of Mathias Alten, aligned with my move to the city of Grand Rapids. While exploring my new neighborhood I started to see connections between the history I was researching and my new city. There is an ice cream shop on Cherry Street called Furniture City Creamery that I innocuously visited on a break from writing about Alten, only to look up from my cone to see the title of the shop and be instantly reminded of him." Erin Harshberger

Learn more about Mathias Alten's work and life online at

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Page last modified October 22, 2020