Jess Smillie

MFA ’23 Architecture

I don’t remember much about my grandfather, and yet I know a world about him. I know the things that made him laugh when he wasn’t supposed to. I know the burnt crumpets he smiled through because he loved my gran above all. I know the job he dedicated his life to was far from the career his own father wouldn’t let him have. And I know how many hours, days, weeks he spent in his piecemeal woodshop tinkering, laboring, loving. For the most part, I know him through the stories I’m told, but I got to know him best through the objects he left behind.

We ate dinner every night at the table he made (kicked my toe on that left leg a thousand times). Alex and I learned to play chess on the set he hand-carved. I ran butt-naked around the mountain cottage he spent years building with my dad – his favorite reading chair still lingers next to the fireplace. 

This piece is both a memory and a lesson. It is based on a traditional South African style of furniture called Riempie, which uses a criss-cross woven raw hide to form a seat – much like the grand bench that sat feebly on my grandparents’ Cape Dutch veranda. Making this is my way of knowing him – through stories told and objects loved; I know this world about him.


Jessica is a South African architect and designer who received her masters degree in architecture from MassArt in 2023. After graduating from the University of Cape Town in 2016 with a Bachelor of Architecture (Honours), she spent 5 years under the wings of prolific Cape Town architects, learning and crafting in her pursuit of both creating and understanding beauty.