Branching Out: The Art of Wood


Now on View   Transforming gnarled and twisted logs, roots and burls into artistic pieces has long been undervalued and underappreciated within established art circles. Regarded primarily as utilitarian objects for everyday use, these wooden vessels were not deemed worthy of artistic status. 

In the past three decades, however, the field of wood art has experienced a dramatic revival. Artists have supplemented the traditional technique of woodturning—spinning a piece of wood and shaping it with a handheld chisel—by radically modifying surfaces. This includes carving motifs in relief to apply concealing finishes, such as paint, gold leaf or beading; incorporating inlay into the structure; and sandblasting the wood for textural effects.

Woodturning, like wood itself, is often accompanied by a host of nuances related to actual trees and life’s natural rhythms, according to Dr. Rima Girnius, associate curator. Much of the beauty of a carved and turned work of art depends on chance; a woodturner not only creates but uncovers and celebrates the inherent beauty of wood—the grain patterns, cracks, hue variations, even worm holes.

Branching Out: The Art of Wood features an international roster of accomplished woodturners. David Ellsworth, Lane Phillips and Bruce Hoover embrace the flaws and deformities and create forms that brint to light the character of wood. They retain natural bark edges, and highlight rather than hide insect damage.

Other artists take a more pictorial route to represent the natural origins of their material. Dixie Biggs adorns her bowl with oak leaves while Jack Wohlstadter creates ridges near the opening of his vessel that emulate the petals of a flower. The turquoise filling that twists and turns in his form recalls the life-giving veins and roots that nourish trees.

Woodturners may also manipulate their material to create more abstract structures that hide the natural elements of wood but still allude to the organic nature of their medium. Michael Mode applies bold graphic patterns on his forms that both contain and enhance the linear pattern of spalted wood while the delicate sculptures of Alain Mailland create an effect of weightlessness and movement reminiscent of marine life.