Collectors of Wood Art Forum

The Collectors of Wood Art (CWA) held their annual forum in Scottsdale this weekend, and I was able to drive up for some of the Saturday sessions.

I first got to see a panel discussion chaired by sculptor Connie Mississippi, with sculptor-carver Susan Hagen, turner Merryll Saylan, turner Virginia Dotson, and furniture maker and artist Wendy Maruyama. The theme was place, and each artist presented images of places and work inspired or informed by those places.

Susan Hagen focused on a series of ten dioramas (Recollection Tableaux) she created for the Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia, depicting aspects of life in the prison throughout its history.

Merryll Saylan talked about home and community as place. Some of her pieces had domestic themes; some were more broadly influenced by her environment (e.g., changing color palettes), neighborhood (urban, industrial), and community (family, friends).

Virginia Dotson focused on the geology and cultures of the American Southwest, showing images primarily from Canyon de Chelly. As a desert dweller myself, I have always loved her geologic layered work, and I was interested to see that her new work incorporates painted petroglyph and petrograph motifs.

Wendy Maruyama touched on the World War II Japanese-American internment camps in the United States but focused mainly on inspirations from visits to Japan and China. Her incorporations of hentai images from Japanese pornographic comics and iconic images of Godzilla were particularly amusing. She has also begun using digital video in her work, such as a video of an Asian woman (her sister) applying “dragon lady” makeup, seen through a two-way mirror in a piece.

After a break, the forum continued with digital-image or slide presentations by various artists, emphasizing future work.

I first discovered the exquisite naturalistic carvings of Janel Jacobson this summer in the collection of Fleur Bresler. Janel showed the progression of her work from relief carving in clay to the fully dimensional wood carvings she now does, and she shared some of her specific techniques. The detail in her work is astonishing.

Turner Dewey Garrett’s work always interests me. He is always exploring fresh ideas, informed by his background as an engineer. He has now built himself an ornamental-turning system, but he’s not content to stick with traditional rose engine patterns; he has written software for himself that enables him to create patterns on the fly.

Sculptor Michael Peterson is continuing to explore organic shapes and textures in his work. I find his work irresistible.

Sculptor Jack Slentz is playing with Swiss cross and gear and star shapes, and complementary pieces combining positive and negative shapes. He is also using new materials: stitched rubber and street signs.

Kerry Vesper, furniture maker and sculptor, is carving wave or flying-banner forms and blossom forms in plywood. He is also playing with collaborations with glass artist Alisha Volotzky.

Todd Hoyer and Hayley Smith say they haven’t been making a lot of art recently, because for the last three years they have been engaged in building their studios and a house. Their joint presentation was about just that process. It was particularly interesting to see how the process reflects their approach as artists; for example, the floor of Hayley’s studio is essentially a sample board of colors and textures they were testing for use in floors in their house.

After the presentations, I spent a couple of hours savoring the del Mano Gallery exhibition set up in the conference center. They had multiple pieces from some four or five dozen artists. I haven’t taken so many photos since the ITE. I would share some with you, but I think del Mano would prefer that I not. You can see a lot of work at their web site, however, so check it out.

Going to the forum also gave me the chance to say hello to some friendly faces I met through the ITE this summer: Elisabeth Agro, Albert and Tina LeCoff, Steve Keeble and Karen Depew, Arthur Mason, Joe Seltzer. Brief though my visit to the forum was, it really makes me want to get back to the work I’ve been distracted from by moving and shows and holidays and new toys. I have so many pieces just begun or even just sketched out that draw and build on my ITE experience. That’s the work that excites me most, but, alas, it must yet wait for another few weeks, until after my next show. It must wait because it requires space, psychic space, birthing space. In the meantime, I think about it, dream about it, plan it, work out the details. It gestates in me.

My artist statement for “allTURNatives”

All the ITErs were asked to write artist statements for the exhibition. I have asked for copies of everyone’s statements from the Wood Turning Center and will post them as soon as I get them. In the meantime, here is mine, expanded from a previous statement, published on my website:

Simple and sensual, my work is about form and substance, containment and expression, the interplay between lift and mass.

As an art medium, wood is unique in that it once lived, and lived long, rooted in the earth, formed as much by the tree’s own life force as by the external forces acting upon it. Wood can be treated as an inert material; it can be cut, carved, colored, bent, planed, pulped; like any other medium, an artist can impose on it whatever form and texture its physical nature will allow. But like a human face, its deepest beauty lies in its record of survival, in its singularity of being, and if an artist chooses to address that aspect of its nature, then the treeness of the wood, that original life energy, can live on in the made object. This is what I try to achieve in turning—to approach the wood as one vessel of energy to another and to make of that interaction a literal vessel.

The quality that I strive to achieve in each turning is presence.

I believe that an object made so, with reverence for its source, retains the spark of that source. Such objects when held or beheld can remind us of our connection to the numinous and the material, the spirit and the earth, a healing connection that grounds us and elevates us and restores us to the whole.

For me, the ITE has been precisely about healing, about transforming brokenness, integrating it into the beauty of the whole. In the work I have produced here, this has involved playing with brokenness in many forms: sometimes deliberately breaking the surface or the wall of a vessel, sometimes working with an existing break, sometimes responding to an accidental break. In various pieces, I have used the brokenness as a feature, exaggerated a break, excised breaks, mended breaks. In the process of this work, I have been transformed by the ITE, both artistically and personally, and I expect the exploration I have begun here to continue for a long time to come.

The end of the 2007 ITE

Saturday, August 4, the Wood Turning Center had a members’ meeting and lunch, which Jean-François, Peter, Sean, Siegfried, and I attended, followed more in-depth gallery talks by each of us. That marked the official end of this year’s ITE and the last time we were all together as a group.

Afterward, Jean-François, Sean, and I headed off to Jane’s house for a celebratory dinner, while Siegfried and his wife, Gudrun, went to Phil and Monika Hauser’s, and Peter went to play with friends.

Siegfried and Gudrun left Philadelphia on Sunday, August 5, I believe, for three weeks or so of travel in the U.S. before they return to Germany. Sean flew home on Monday, August 6. I spent Monday cutting and packing wood to ship back to Arizona (mainly my beloved pear and a holly tree I acquired the day before, thanks to Jane), then headed off to New Jersey for a week at the shore with my partner and her family. Jean-François’s wife, Marie-Claude, arrived Tuesday, August 7, for a few weeks’ visit, mostly in the Philadelphia area, most of which they spent as guests and then housesitters at Jane’s. I believe they will be returning to France this weekend.

And that’s how the ITE ended, folks.

But as Albert likes to emphasize, the ITE isn’t just an experience; it’s a beginning. So stay in touch. I’m sure there will be plenty more to come from each of us.

August 3: Scenes from the opening

The opening was a tough night for me. My vertigo was very bad, and it was all I could do to stay upright and smiling, so most of the photos below were taken by Jane, and I can’t tell you a lot about the events of the night. Vince’s films were screened, as was my video of the artists talking. Each of the ITErs talked about his or her experience, and each of us signed a plaque from a Stubby lathe that the Wood Turning Center (WTC) is raffling off in October. Also signing the plaque were Jane, Gus, Fleur Bresler, and other WTC board members.

The staff of the Wood Turning Center: Suzanne Kopko, exhibition coordinator; David Bender, system designer and publications manager; Jessica, administrative assistant; and Albert LeCoff, executive director.

Peter, his fiancée, and Elisabeth. Cable-and-wood necklaces by Peter.

Elisabeth and I.

Sean and Jean-François.

Phil Hauser and Bruce Kaiser look at a piece by Sean.

Tina and Albert. Necklace and bolo tie by Peter and Jean-François.

Siegfried with Greg and Regina Rhoa.

Peter talks about his work and his ITE experience.

Elisabeth talks about her ITE experience.

I talk about my work and my ITE experience.

Siegried talks about his work (with a demonstration of his new kinetic work) and his ITE experience.

Sean talks about his work and his ITE experience, as Elisabeth and her husband Rob look on.

Jean-François signs the Stubby plaque after his gallery talk.

Jane waits to sign the Stubby plaque as Albert thanks her for her contributions to the ITE program.

Albert acknowledges Gus's support of the ITE program.

Fleur Bresler waits to sign the Stubby plaque as Albert thanks her for her extensive support of the ITE and the WTC.

After the opening, the WTC staff, the ITErs, and several esteemed guests (chiefly the WTC board members) went out for a celebratory dinner at the Pub restaurant, courtesy of the WTC. Elisabeth couldn’t be with us, as she had to leave town right after the opening, but the rest of us had a good time letting down and letting go.

August 3: Field trip

The morning of Friday, August 3, we made one last field trip, to see one of the largest pipe organs in the world, the Wanamaker organ, right in the heart of Philadelphia, at what is now Macy’s. Our guide was Scott Kip, who had substituted for Jane as shop supervisor for a week while she was on vacation and whose day job is working on restoration and maintenance of the organ. It was a fascinating visit, one I would recommend to anyone in Philly.

Here is the facade of the organ. None of these are working pipes. The actual organ is housed behind the facade, spread over seven floors.

The facade of the Wanamaker organ inside Macy's.

Charlie Brown was visiting Macy’s at the same time, for some kind of anniversary.

Macy's Charlie Brown hot-air balloon.

Every one of the nearly 29,000 individual pipes of the organ can be played from this console. (Every note of every simulated instrument is a separate pipe.)

A composite photo of the keyboard.

Some of the variety of pipes that make up the organ. Material, length, diameter, and other factors create the tone of each pipe. Each pipe must be tuned separately.

Some of the nearly 29,000 pipes of the organ.

More pipes.

Some of the pipes that simulate the human voice.

The organ depends on an extensive network of wooden channels that move the air that make the pipes sound.

Air tubes and chambers under some of the pipes.

This is truly an awesome instrument. I wish I could convey how amazing it was to see how it operates—and then to hear it played. There are daily concerts at noon and, I think, at 5 p.m., so check it out for yourself if you can.

Preparing for the opening

Tuesday and Wednesday, we mostly spent cleaning up the shop. What a mess we had made! We swept up bags and bags of shavings and scraps and dust. And we had to sort through all of the tools and equipment and materials to separate what belonged to the Wood Turning Center and what belonged to the university. We also went to the Wood Turning Center to turn in our artist statements and corrections for the labels and to check out the installation. I had one piece, called “In Her Dream,” that required special installation, as you can see below. The shadows in the photos are distracting, but I’m really pleased with how the piece and branch seem to float.

'In Her Dream'Another view of 'In Her Dream.'

I also videotaped Sean, Siegfried, Jean-François, and I talking about the work and our ITE experience, which I later turned into a Quicktime movie. I lack the software here to convert it into a format suitable for uploading, but I will continue working on that. It is available for viewing at the Wood Turning Center.

Thursday evening, August 2, all of us except Lesya—Peter came in from New York a day early, and Elisabeth pulled herself away from the museum—met with Albert at the Wood Turning Center. The purpose of the meeting was to discuss what single piece represented for each of us our ITE experience. The Wood Turning Center was acquiring a piece from each of us for its permanent collection, and the input from us would be considered in determining what those pieces would be.

To backtrack a little, Jean-François, Siegfried, Sean, and I had met individually with Albert on the previous Sunday to discuss our ITE experience and the work we had produced. Speaking for myself, it was an enlightening conversation. Talking through my pieces chronologically with Albert helped me see my experience as a whole for the first time. The conclusion I reached in that conversation was that there were two pieces that represented my experience—“Offering,” the first spouted vessel I turned, and “Learning to Cope: Pear Incognito under a Mantle of Cherry”—and I leaned toward the latter as the ultimate choice.

Meeting with Albert.

The purpose of the meeting wasn’t for each of us to say what piece we would choose for ourselves, but to hear what everyone else would choose for us—that is, to hear how our fellow ITErs perceived our work and our experience. The discussion was fascinating. It was a challenge to look objectively at each other’s work, to set aside our personal preferences and look at the work in the context of the individual artist.

Meeting with Albert.

Being away from the rest of us gave Elisabeth and Peter interesting perspectives. In particular—though perhaps not surprisingly, given her training—Elisabeth seemed to see each of us the most clearly.

Some of our views were widely divergent to begin with, but in the end, we seemed to reach consensus on everyone. For me, the piece everyone settled on was the cloaked pear bowl, and that is the piece the Wood Turning Center did acquire. I hope that the Wood Turning Center will indicate on their site which pieces were acquired for each of us, because in the blur of the opening, I didn’t register what they were for the others.

July 31: Dinner with the Hausers

Tuesday evening, July 31, after a day spent cleaning the shop, we drove to New Jersey for a nice, relaxed, and tasty dinner with Phil and Monika Hauser. Phil is vice president and treasurer of the Wood Turning Center and is himself a turner. Phil and Monika are Swiss, so Siegfried had a good time speaking German for a change. Phil also generously gave us some chunks of coolibah to take home and turn.

Phil's workbench.

Siegfried checks out Phil's finished work.

Dinner on the deck.

Lesya’s dances

Lesya ended up doing dances with one of Sean’s pieces, one of mine, and Peter’s chainsawn bench. Sean, Siegfried, Jean-François, and I also participated in the dance with the bench, with Lesya directing us from the sidelines. Vince filmed all of the dances on Saturday, July 28, and the finished videos were shown at the opening and are available for viewing at the Wood Turning Center throughout the “allTURNatives” exhibition.

Lesya sets up our dance with Peter's bench.

Vince sets up the lighting for our dance with Peter's bench.

I have embedded the finished videos here. They can also be found on Vince’s website. If the embedded video does not appear below, click here to view the videos on YouTube.