Prepare to be impressed. The 35 Southeastern artists selected for the new exhibition at the Oconee Cultural Arts Foundation are not your average whittlers. Many have their works in such impressive venues as The White House, Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, the Smithsonian, and numerous fine museums and galleries. And now you can see and appreciate their skill and artistry.
Curator Abraham Tesser, 75, has imprinted his longtime love of wood and woodworkers into the heart of the show. After 30+ years as a psychology professor at UGA, Tesser focused on his lifelong hobby in earnest. Taking classes and enjoying the company of other woodworkers gave him an opportunity to know the work of many gifted artisans, a benefit he has employed to the advantage of the exhibit.
The work of a dozen wood turners will dazzle. The exhibit includes vessels by Harvey Meyer that appear to be woven baskets and teapots by Michael Gibson that look like delicate porcelain. In addition to vessels, expect to see fantasy pieces, platters and, for the practical minded, turned wooden stools by Atlanta’s Nick Cook, the area’s foremost production wood turner. Here are highlights from a few more of the noted contributors to the exhibition.
Philip and Matt Moulthrop, father and son, are second and third generations of the bowl-making dynasty founded by Philip’s father Ed, internationally hailed as “the father of modern wood turning.” Since Ed’s death in 2003 Philip and Matt have worked to extend his legacy, displaying samples of their signature work—bowls often characterized by high gloss surfaces with surface patterns produced by the wood’s inherent structure. Moulthrop Studio in Atlanta has work in the collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the Renwick Gallery in Washington, D.C. and The White House.
Tennessean Craig Nutt is a woodturner of a more whimsical sort. Travelers through Atlanta’s Hartsfield airport pass under Nutt’s fantastically airborne ear of corn, an iconic piece for a public setting. His love of veggies for subjects is legendary. He has also done a Carrot Bomb, a Ground Launch Goober, and Burning, a chair with fire-red chili-pepper legs and armrests, along with celery stalks used for the seat back. He continues his vegetable fascination at OCAF with his Butterbean Chair.
Athens’ own Tad Gloeckler, associate professor of art at UGA, turns traditional cabinetry on its ear. His precisely built casework components fold up and nest into one another like Chinese wooden puzzles, combining his architectural training and art background. An instruction manual comes as an integral part of some of his impeccably crafted pieces, which may appear functional but are not meant to be used.
Peter Bull of Cleveland characterizes his career, begun in 1979, as “diverse.” He earns his living by timber framing, doing finish carpentry, producing elegant cabinetry and fine art pieces to keep his shop running. (See related story for more information on Bull and his work.)
The exhibition features wood works that range from small sculpture to full-sized furniture – top-notch examples of a simple material transformed by the eye of an artist and the hand of a skilled craftsman.
Wood Works: A Regional Exhibition runs Jan. 21-Feb.17. The opening reception will be held in the large gallery at OCAF on Jan. 20, 6-8 p.m. at 34 School Street, Watkinsville. The exhibit is free and open to the public. For further information, call (706) 769-4565 or visit www.OCAF.com
Burl is a type of fast-growing, abnormal growth found on some trees, often within the roots and is prized by wood turners and furniture makers.
Case Goods are furniture pieces built with interior compartments for storage, such as desks and chests of drawers.
Marquetry is a decorative element made from small pieces of variously colored wood or other materials.
Slab or Live Edge follows the organic exterior contour of the tree. Interesting grain pattern, knots or defects make live edge pieces uniquely beautiful.
Timber Frame uses chiseled out mortise-and-tenon joinery. Think “tab a” inserted into “slot b,” done in wood, without nails.
Woodturning uses a stationary lathe to create form. Turning is used for elongated parts, like chair legs and arms and for rounded bowl forms.
A Well-Tempered Woodworker
“Putting it all in one word,” says Peter Bull, “I’m a woodworker.” Since 1979 Bull has worked steadily at his craft from his Cleveland shop in White County. He describes his labors as “diverse.” If it’s wood, Bull has done it – carpenter, box maker, cabinet maker, timber framer – he has done it all.
The longevity of his career is due to twin virtues of wide-ranging skills and a true passion for the material. Although he still does outdoor work building pavilions and homes, he’s turned more to the work that keeps him in his shop, especially through the cold months.
Bull admits it has gotten harder as he’s aged.
“Like everything,” he said, laughing. “I know I have to work smarter. Planning has gotten more important.” He also appreciates the fact that, with age and experience, he can execute difficult techniques that yield an elegantly simple result.
He particularly likes one piece that represents him in the OCAF show. The chiseled joinery reflects his career-long association with timber-framing and is made from rescued white pine timber frame end cuts.
Bull is excited that OCAF is bringing in different shows of wood as craft and art. Shows give him a creative push. “Wood working is an honorable medium, and I am glad to be part of OCAF’s presentation.”
A Quilt Grows in Athens
One piece in the Wood Works exhibit at OCAF is made of a more flexible material. Angela Meltzer, a quilter, wanted to honor her friend Abraham Tesser, and was inspired by a favorite book, Betty Smith’s 1943 novel, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, much beloved by many a boomer.
“Abraham has been a supportive friend to me for many years,” she said, “and I wanted to make something just for him. She borrowed the title for the quilt she created as a tribute to her Brooklyn-born friend.
Angela, a long-time quilter, was inspired by a piece of fabric with a wood grain pattern and began collecting similar samples wherever she found them. The resulting 36 in. x 24 in. hanging took her a year to complete. In the background is a stylized tenement, every detail cut from a different wood patterned fabric. In front and to one side, the tree is over-stitched with intricate wood grain and colorful fallen leaves at its roots.