Armchair Philosophy: Art Student Blends Passion with Pragmatism

The air in theCO’s studio room is thick with bark dust as Zac Pankey, senior art major, demonstrates the process of making furniture.

After experimenting with graphic design, which he found to be too mechanical, and sculpture, which he found to be impractical, Pankey discovered a passion for making furniture, which is both utilitarian and aesthetic.

“I wanted to make things,” Pankey said. “I wanted to make useful things, and I wanted to make things that were accessible to people.”

He began toying with the idea of building furniture during an art class and submitted his pieces for critique. Despite the initial learning curve, Pankey found something in furniture that was deeply gratifying.

Pankey’s work testifies to his precision, passion and work ethic, qualities recognized by those who know him. His roommate Seth Guiler, senior engineering major, describes him as “tireless and meticulous,” and local businesses like The Rugged Reclaimers proudly display some of his finest work.

“I don’t assign a meaning to a table, but innately a table is a gathering place,” Pankey said. “The spirit of what table is—that’s enough for me. I approach it with the knowledge that there is already something here worth doing, not to endow some sort of philosophy to it.”

Pankey describes his own work as precise and minimalistic, favoring square angles and often gravitating toward making wooden tables with steel bases. Silky slabs of rustic wood pair well against the dark, elegant framing.

“The idea that furniture facilitates community has motivated Zac’s creations,” Guiler said. “He is bothered by the blandness of mass-produced furniture that fills the typical home. Instead, he wants to create furniture that is unique, has character and is ultimately useful in creating an atmosphere that promotes interaction, conversation and community.”

With aspirations to own his own business and studio, Pankey diligently devotes hours to lay the foundation for his post-college career while juggling the weight of being a full-time student.

More than a starry-eyed, idealistic art enthusiast, Pankey deals with the common struggle of the college student—the tension between the pursuit of one’s passion and the practically-sound career.

“I do work for class and then I do work to support myself,” he said. “It is really great and really rich to know that what I’m doing may be difficult, but it can be done. I won’t step out into the real word fumbling. I hope everyone who goes through this school has that same feeling of naturally and organically transitioning into not being a student.”

Thoughtful, introspective and articulate, Pankey represents the success that follows an intentional merging of passion and pragmatism. He puts a tremendous amount of time and initiative into making his passion his calling by going the extra mile both creatively and practically.

When people see his work, they see pieces of furniture tailored to permeate their surroundings with freshness and personality. What they do not see are the long days spent inhaling bark dust, the hours of welding together clunky pieces of metal to form an aerial frame, or the burnt, splinter-filled fingers.

“I have this ability to make things,” Pankey said. “I have a desire to make things that people can own and have and use, and I value conversations and relationships. There is something about furniture that facilitates all these things. And there is a richness to the process—like I’m making something and that is what gives it life.”

Find Pankey’s work at