ARThound

Geneva Anderson digs into art

Rustic perfection! “J.B. Blunk: Nature, Art and Everyday Life” at Oakland Museum through September 9, 2018

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The Oakland Museum’s summer exhibit J.B. Blunk: Nature, Art and Everyday Life, celebrates a creative life many of us fantasize about—small secluded cabin, surrounded by nature, living authentically off the land, all time is dedicated to creative pursuits.  If ever there were a model for this, it is artist James Blain Blunk (1926-2002) who lived and created in Inverness from the late 1950’s until his death in 2002.

Blunk’s work, his home and the poetic appeal of his extraordinary counterculture life are all explored in this survey show curated by OMCA Curator of Art, Carin Adams.  Well worth the trip to Oakland, the exhibit includes 80 of Blunk’s important artworks—large wood and stone works, bronze sculptures, ceramics, works on panel and board, and handmade buttons, belts and jewelry—as well as personal photos from his life in Japan and Marin.  A special video, too, was commissioned that includes intimate interviews with Blunk’s family, friends and colleagues who speak to the seamless integration of his life and creative process.

“This idea of an artist who is completely intertwining art and nature and his life is a very California concept, especially the integration of art and landscape” said OMCA director Lori Fogarty.  “He created the most iconic, memorable and beloved element in our building, “The Planet,” which is really the center of our museum.  Right now, we are so pleased to have Blunk on three levels of the museum: “The Planet” is on first level; another piece is in a natural setting in the alcove outside the History Gallery, and the exhibit on the second floor galleries.”

Blunk’s Life = Art

Bunk’s artistic career began in Japan.  Right after finishing college at UCLA in 1949, where he studied ceramics under Laura Andreson, he was drafted into the Korean war and served in the army.  In 1951, he was able to finagle a discharge to Japan where, fortuitously, he met Isamu Noguchi who was instrumental in steeping him in Japan’s rich ceramic tradition and guiding him to apprenticeships with legendary potters Kitaoji Rosanjin (1883–1959) and Bizen style master Toyo Keneshige (1896–1967).

When Blunk returned to CA in 1954, he worked as potter creating stoneware with a strong Japanese influence.  The show includes a few of these ceramics as well as his later paintings, often done on wood that he went over with a chainsaw and then painted in neutral shades, accentuating the wood’s grain and creating a textured surface that referred back to his beginnings as a ceramicist.

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After a few years in CA, Blunk took on work as a carpenter to support himself.  Noguchi arranged another fortuitous introduction, to the British surrealist painter Gordon Onslow Ford, then living in Inverness on 250+ forested acres overlooking Tomales Bay.  After Blunk built a complex roof for Onslow Ford’s new home (designed by Warren Callister), Onslow Ford asked him to stay on in Inverness and offered him an acre of his land.  Reportedly, Blunk climbed trees on the idyllic property searching for the perfect place to situate his home.  This was at the beginning of the West Marin’s handmade house era that flourished in the 1960’s and 70’s.

Blunk chose a forested ridge facing the gorgeous Tomales Bay and, from 1958 to 1962,  he and his first wife Nancy Waite (daughter of Howard Waite), designed and hand-built their home and studio from lumber and logs foraged near the beach at Inverness.  The Blunk House, considered Blunk’s seminal artwork, has evolved over years from its original 600 square feet to about double that.  Simple, it suits the land perfectly and the land suits it.  It includes a ceramic and woodcutting studio and has become iconic in design circles, touted by the NYT Style Magazine in 2016 as “the perfect meeting of California Craft and Japanese Minimalism”.

Interior Sculpture

Detail, interior of J.B. Blunk’s home. Everything in the house—the sculptures, furniture, floors, wall panels, plates, bowls, even the bathroom sink were made by the artist. Photo: OMCA

It was not only the home, but the way Blunk lived in it with his family that mattered.  He fired cups, plates and bowls he fashioned from clay he dug on his land.  He built his own brick and clay kiln. He hunted or grew most of his food. He made his furniture—a combo of sturdy but elegant stools, chairs, and functional slabs such as his famous bathroom sink of hand hewn cypress with its chiseled bowl— and put his artwork everywhere.  All of this was illuminated by sunlight streaming in from windows overlooking a view of paradise.

Blunk, carved bench, front view, OMCA

A redwood stool, circa 1965, has a distinct Asian flair. Its curved chisel-carved seat communicated with art hanging on the walls and the walls themselves. J.B. Blunk, Stool #1, 28x21x12 inches. Photo: Geneva Anderson

Blunk, shirt, belt, buckle, OMCA

During his early days in Inverness, Blunk hunted deer to feed himself and his family. His deerskin shirt in the background (circa 1955), that he wore often, was most likely made by his first wife, Nancy. He made and wore the belt and buckle (circa 1960’s), in the foreground. Courtesy Rufus Blunk. Photo: Geneva Anderson

During this period, Blunk developed a deep love of wood.  He was attuned to the trees surrounding him and collected the burls that washed up on the beach.  He began creating wood furniture from redwood and cypress which he carved out with a chain saw and finished with an angular grinder and chisel.  His first major wood commission was in 1965 for landscape architect Lawrence Halprin who requested an entire room of furniture.  Blunk responded with benches, chairs and a low table that seem to grow organically out of the walls and floor.

With Halprin’s initial help, Blunk went on to obtain several commissions for large-scale sculptural seating projects:  (1968 UC Santa Cruz plaza seating, 1969 OMCA “The Planet,” 1969 “The Ark”).  These massive sculptures were unique in that they were made to be touched and sat on.  He was included in many craft exhibitions.  His beloved “Greens” installation from 1979—a three ton redwood monolith and a group of chairs and tables cut from a single 22-foot diameter redwood stump of redwood—still serves as the sculptural centerpiece and spiritual anchor for Greens restaurant at Fort Mason Center.

Around the time of the Greens project, Blunk became less interested in furniture and more interested in pure sculpture.  He realized that the huge blocks of wood he had standing around his yard waiting to be cut up into firewood were so beautiful that he couldn’t just cut them up and he was inspired to create monumental forms.

Blunk Mage OMCA

J.B. Blunk, “Mage,” 1983, carved redwood. Photo: Geneva Anderson

In the 1980’s, Blunk moved on to tall twisting wood sculptures created with a chainsaw and to stone carvings. His majestic two-legged redwood “Mage” from 1983 is one the show’s highlights. With its poetic natural gnarls and ripples left intact, Blunk’s transformation of the material is minimal, just enough release the inherent beauty in the material he worked with.  “I am in awe of his wisdom about what to highlight in its natural state and what to dig into and transform,” said curator Carin Adams.  “That’s his genius. It wasn’t always what he decided to do with things but what he decided to let stand on its own.”

Blunk’s friendship with Noguchi deepened over the years.  “I’ve heard stories from his family members and from his long-time assistants about Noguchi’s regular visits and how they would walk through the fields adjacent to J.B.’s studio and home and just look at assembled materials, not really talking, just nodding occasionally and looking,”  said Adams.  “I think they had a long-term, active, vital exchange that was important for each of them.”

Don’t miss Blunk’s “The Planet” in OMCA’s lobby

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In 2019, OMCA celebrates the 50th anniversary of the opening of its historic landmarked building. Designed by Pritzker prize-winning architect Kevin Roche, this jewel is one of California’s most stunning examples of examples of mid-century modernism. The building actually had to be constructed around Blunk’s majestic two-ton, 13-feet-diameter work “The Planet,” carved from the base of a single redwood tree.  The magnificent sprawling piece was commissioned in 1969 and is situated at the heart of the museum on the first level at the entrance to the Gallery of California Natural Sciences. Sadly, the piece’s installation precedes all of the museum’s current employees so no one was able to relate in person the story of this piece’s installation but the exhibit does include several photos.

Free informative Exhibition Tours | J.B. Blunk: Nature, Art & Everyday Life:

Saturday, August 18, 2018, 12–12:45 p.m., inquire at entrance where to meet

Saturday, September, 1, 2018, 12-12:45 p.m., inquire at entrance where to meet

More resources J.B. Blunk:

The wall texts are informative but Blunk is an artist who cries out for a book that can be poured over and treasured. His daughter, Mariah Nielson, who works with the Blunk estate and founded the company Permanent Collection (it sells re-casted originals of her dad’s works, such as Blunk Cups) has just finished digitizing his entire archive and is collaborating on a forthcoming book.

For now, the most complete information on Blunk comes straight from the horse’s mouth—a wonderful 3 hour and 34 minute oral interview Blunk did in 2002 in Inverness with Glenn Adamson for the Archives of American Art’s Nanette L. Laitman Documentation Project for Craft and Decorative Arts in America. Click here to be directed to the interview.

To read more about how J.B. Blunk influenced CA’s fine wood tradition, read ARThound’s  “Family Tree” Petaluma Art Center’s Exceptional Fine Woodworking Show through March 13, 2011

 

Details: “J.B. Blunk: Nature, Art & Everyday Life” is on display at OMCA through September 9, 2018.  General Admission tickets include this exhibit: $15.95, $10.95 seniors, $6.95 Youth 9-17 and free for children 8 and under and OMCA members. As part of Friday Nights at OMCA, on Fridays 5 to 10 p.m., enjoy half price admission for adults and free admission for 18 and under.  Get your groove on with wine, beer, music, featured artists, Off the Grid food trucks and more.

Coming this fall to OMCA “The World of Ray and Charles Eames” October 13, 2018- February 17, 2019.  (This exhibit originated at the Barbican London, 21 October 2015 – 14 February, 2016)

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August 10, 2018 Posted by | Art, Oakland Museum of California | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Family Tree” Petaluma Art Center’s Exceptional Fine Woodworking Show through March 13, 2011

Barbara Holmes' site specific installation from re-purposed building lath is the focal point of "Family Tree," the fine woodworking exhibition at the Petaluma Arts Center through March 13, 2011. Photo: Geneva Anderson

In the past two years, the Petaluma Arts Center has delivered several well-curated and immensely popular shows.  “Family Tree,” the center’s latest exhibition which runs through March 13, may be its best yet.  The show explores the lineage of fine woodworking in California from 1945 onward and is one of its most ambitious shows to date, bringing a number of woodworking masterpieces into the small center along with a bevy of artist demonstrations and talks.  If your conception of woodworking runs to bowls, tables and chairs, the show offers plenty of fine examples of these but it will also update you with some of wood’s latest trends. It also makes a compelling case for elevating fine woodworking into museums as a vibrant form of conceptual craft.

“Family Tree” is curated by Kathleen Hanna and presents the works of 25 artists, ranging from pioneers and mid-career artists to new entrants whose work has been influential in the CA contemporary fine woodworking movement.   Along side of this show, in the center’s community gallery, stands the innovative work of several students from the Furniture Program at California College of the Arts  who are rising stars in fine woodworking. 

Kathleen Hanna curator of "Family Tree" at the Petaluma Arts Center through March 13, 2011. Hanna is an independent curator who has worked with several of San Francisco's leading craft museums. Photo: Geneva Anderson

“Since WWII, the focus of the art world has shifted radically from the New York to the West Coast in the area of fine craft and I wanted to point to the history of what has happened here since WWII,” explained Kathleen Hanna, an independent curator specializing in 20th century furniture and decorative objects who has worked for San Francisco’s Museum of Craft and Design and Museum of Craft and Folk Art .  Hanna, a Petaluma resident since 1983, also has a personal connection to fine woodworking through her father, Arthur W. Hanna, a San Francisco boat builder who took up woodworking and furniture design after he came home from WWII.   “This is a very small space, so I wanted to work just with wood and trace the lineage back to a very small group of pioneers in wood and fine craft and show how subsequent makers have expanded the dialogue by painting, manipulating and emphasizing wood’s sculptural aspects as well as show some woodworking tools that are being locally made.”

Early Masters:   Material Worship

Much in line with modernist principals of clean lines, truth to materials and simplicity, early woodworkers revered the wood itself for its own inherent beauty and didn’t paint it or cover up its beautiful grain.  Art Espenet Carpenter’s (1920-2006) “Double Music Stand” is just one of the masterpieces on display from pioneering California wood artists. 

Art Espenet Carpenter's iconic "Double Music Stand," in rosewood, is one the masterpieces of wood art on display in "Family Tree."

Legendary for his sleek and distinctive furniture, Carpenter, who had just returned from military service was so inspired by a Good Design exhibition in 1946 at MOMA in New York that he bought a lathe and took up woodworking.  He then moved to California, where later he exuberantly embraced furniture design.   He taught at San Francisco State and became so popular that over 130 woodworkers apprenticed under him in his Bolinas studio. 

His double music stand, fashioned from rosewood, is finely inlaid with metal and exhibits elegant refined curves that show influence of Alexander Calder, Charles and Ray Eames, and Robert Maillart , a Swiss engineer and bridge builder whose startling and original spans influenced 20th century artists of all kinds.  The form of this music stand so appealed to Carpenter that he worked with it throughout his life, modifying it and creating many examples.  

Carpenter was also a founding member of the influential Baulines Craft Guild, formed in the early 1970’s, which brought skilled artisans together to further their techniques and artistic dialogue.  This led to the formation of Dovetail Gallery on Fillmore Street in San Francisco providing a market for their works.

J.B.Blunk’s “Chair” 1978, 36” x 40” x 40,” was carved from a massive block of redwood with a chainsaw. In the 1960’s and 1970’s, Blunk was well-known for his redwood furniture and wood installations which were unprecedented in their size and degree of abstraction. Photo: Geneva Anderson

Sculptor J.B. Blunk (1926-2002) , whose proud and massive carved redwood chair(1978) is also on display, had a strong influence on wood artists in the 1960’s and 1970’s.  Using a chainsaw, Blunk created such iconic works as “The Planet” (1969) which graces the entrance of Oakland Museum of California’s Natural Science Gallery (closed for construction until 2012) and is made entirely of one ring of redwood burl thirteen feet in diameter. 

Like many early woodworkers, Blunk took up woodworking after military service.  After serving in the army in Korea, Blunk was discharged to Japan where he met sculptor Isamu Noguchi and delved into Japan’s rich ceramic tradition, apprenticing with legendary potters Kitaoji Rosanjin (1883–1959) and Bizen style master Toyo Keneshige (1896–1967).  After returning to the U.S., Blunk built his own home and studio near in Inverness and remained true to an aesthetic process that sought to release the inherent beauty in the material he worked with.  His legacy continues posthumously with a residency program through his Inverness studio.

Several extraordinary wooden bowls by revered wood artist Bob Stocksdale (1914-2003), a long-time East Bay resident, attest to his influence on many important contemporary wood artists.  Mesmerizing in their elegant simplicity, they encapsulate the bowl’s transition from a previously crude farm-style implement to a beautiful and functional

Bob Stocksdale’s lathe-turned vessels fashioned from exotic timbers, like this 1979 bowl from Ebony, exquisitely showcase each piece of wood’s unique grain and beauty..

aesthetic object.  Stocksdale’s small thin lathe-turned macadamia nut bowl, barely 3  inches in diameter, is a perfect harmony of graceful form and material, as is his larger Magnolia tree bowl.  These bowls were once available in limited supply at Gump’s and reasonably affordable as beautiful utilitarian objects.  Now, they are highly collectible and fetch thousands. 

Stocksdale’s love for exotic timbers, his care in selecting just the right piece of wood, and his gifted use of simple tools to explore the inherent beauty of wood grain were trademarks that gained him celebrity status.   Like most artists, he did not arrive at this spontaneously.  He was influenced heavily by James Prestini (1908-1993), an engineer turned artist who started to lathe turn wooden bowls in the 1930’s as art objects—bowls so thin they appeared to have qualities similar to glass or ceramics.  Prestini’s new way of looking at woodturning, with his emphasis on the design and shape of the object, influenced an entire generation, especially young Stocksdale, who first encountered him in Berkeley. 

Berkeley artist Merryll Saylan was one of the early female entrants to wood art and is noted for her polychrome finishes. “Tower, Keep and Besamim Büchse” (2005) are three turned towers she created referencing her husband’s experience on life support.

Second Generation:  Women, Color, Form, Experimentation

Looking back at the sexual politics of the mid-century and the immediate post WWII environment, where woodworking and handicrafts were forms of rehabilitation, and the explosion of power tools that became readily available and affordable, it’s easy to see why woodworking was initially a man’s activity. Berkeley artist Merryll Saylan, was one of the early women in the field, emerging as a leader in the use of color and texture in her lathe turned work.  She is part of the second generation of California artists who really went beyond worshipping wood for its inherent qualities and began to experiment with color, finishes and sculptural embellishment.  This generation of artists introduced a new round of individual expression to woodworking and began to elevate wood to the realm of conceptual craft. 

“Tower, Keep, and Besamim and Büchse”(2005)  are three turned wooden towers forming a powerful installation that incorporates the actual nitroglycerin bottles used by Saylan’s husband when he was on life support.  Aside from its highly personal nature, Besamim and Büchse (Jewish spice box) are a conceptual reinterpretation of Jewish ritual.  The towers have an opaque hard finish that Saylan has created with polychrome “milk paint” which she makes by adding colorants to caseine (processed from the curd of soured milk).  Milk paint is water soluble when wet but it becomes virtually intractable when dry and forms a very stable and attractive protective finish—an apt metaphor for what it must have taken to gain recognition in a predominantly male field.

Griff Oakie, from Santa Rosa, began working with wood in the early 1970’s and initially rebelled against color and the trend for painting wood that emerged in the 1980’s.  In “The Hand of the Maker,” for fun, Oakie put a very expensive bright red lacquer on a bench he’d made, completely covering the beautiful figurative aspect of the wood, and embellished it with a carved wooden hand left unpainted.

Ashley Jameson Eriksmoen’s “Fledge” 2006 is a table set based on the artist’s observations about how various young animals huddle near their parents’ legs. Constructed from various woods, acrylic and milk paints, casters, 36”x45”x14” and 24”x3-“x11.” photo: courtesy Ashley Eriksmoen

Gary Knox Bennett (born 1934)v has attained legendary status in the field of furniture and is well-known for his subversive humor.  In the 1960’s he created lines of roach clips along with his lucrative large-scale furniture and he also started a metal-plating company and has since imbued his wood furniture with decorative metal.  Hanna selected one of his satiny redwood tables for “Family Tree” and encourages viewers to browse through any of the 10 artist statements he prepared for the show.      

Ashley Eriksmoen’s  “Fledge” is a very gestural duo and amongst the most imaginative pieces on display —a solid wood parson’s table and end table set– highly organic in form and suggestive of a bird wing.  “Fledge” is based on Eriksmoen’s observations of various young animals (including humans) as they huddle near their parents’ legs.  “A gosling will find shelter under the mother goose’s wing as it peers at the world, just as dogs lean into their guardian’s shins when feeling shy,” writes Eriksmoen.  “In ‘Fledge,’ the parent table takes a protective stance as the young table leans out, contemplating leaving the nest on a solo flight while still needing the parent.”  Each “feather” of the table is an independent segment, shaped and fitted curve to curve.  The legs have lap joints in the “knees.”  Casters on the hind feet allow these winged creatures to have faster takeoffs and smooth

Russell Baldon’s table “Bad Digital” is a hallucinogenic exploration the possibilities of digital furniture design. Baldon is chairman of the Furniture Department at CCA and encourages his students to embrace technology. Photo: Geneva Anderson

landings, and to be moved easily with one hand.  Eriksmoen, who teaches at California College of the Arts (CCA) in San Francisco, has travelled the world studying ancient techniques which she applies in conjunction with state of the art design practices taught at CCA.  The result is a thoroughly refreshing body of contemporary work  imbued with life, movement, whimsy, and stunning craftsmanship.

Highly creative approaches to woodworking are being nurtured in CCA’s Furniture Program and instructors Russell Baldon, Donald Fortescue and Barbara Holmes also figure prominently in “Family Tree.”   Russell Baldon’s “Bad Digital” is a digitally-designed and executed table that resembles a Victor Vasarely painting in 3-D.  Baldon, current chairman of CCA’s Furniture Program, intentionally designs his work so that it straddles the line between furniture and art, science and art, and between function and nonfunction.   

Donald Fortescue's "Pike" (2001) were painstakingly formed by gluing rings of plywood together and turning and hand-shaping it to form a smooth minimalistic tower. In 2001, Fortescue became the first artist to win a design award from SFMOMA. Photo: courtesy Donald Fortescue

Australian born Donald Fortescue, previous chairman of CCA’s Furniture Program, was one of the first artists to receive the Experimental Design Award from SFMOMA (San Francisco Museum of Modern Art) in 2001.  “Pike” (2000) are two impeccably made sculptural vessels that comment on the potential of non-rectilinear processes now common in design applications of all types.  Each was made by gluing innumerable rings of birch plywood together, then lathe-turning and painstakingly hand-finishing it into a single smooth layered form.  These layers, like sedimentary strata, stand as a perfect commentary on art’s cycle.  In the long run, almost everything in America that starts out at the pinnacle as a coveted art/design object in galleries or design stores cycles downward until it reaches Target and then ascends in large consumer markets.    

Barbara Holmes, a fine woodworker and CCA instructor from Oakland, has created the site specific “Tacoma” from reclaimed redwood lathe specifically for the Petaluma Arts Center.   This lyrical, spiraling 12 foot long line of lathe unfolds like a melody across the gallery wall.  The technique of stacking slats, nailing them and creating spirals is recent and springs from a residency Holmes did at the dump where she discovered how much lathe was a discarded by-product of demolition.  The repurposing of wood and wood objects has become particularly popular in Northern, CA, because of our strong interest in sustainability and eco-consciousness.  Wood artists like Holmes are exploring the material in new ways and creating pieces with a strong conceptual element behind them.

Sparks and shavings flew as Jerry Kermode demonstrated turning techniques to a packed house at the Petaluma Arts Center. Photo: Geneva Anderson

 In late January, Jerry Kermode, a full time wood turner from Sebastopol, gave one of the center’s most action-packed artist demos ever on problem solving for wood turners.  “I love the lathe because it’s really the only tool in the shop where you are the blade,”  Kermode told a packed house of wood enthusiasts.  Kermode teaches wood techniques out of his home studio and is featured in Sunset’s The Ultimate Garage: Getting Organized, Outfitting Your Garage, Creative Use of Space.  

Like many artists, Kermode studies ancient techniques and finds solutions for problems that are a blend of old and new.  While living in Hawaii, he encountered the cherished calabash (bowl) culture of the Islands and discovered that old calabash bowls were often repaired with wooden inserts, or kepa.  Kermode began experimenting with biscuit joiners used in cabinetry to hold together included or fragile wood while turning it and refined this into a signature technique of stitching (bowl repair).  Kermode, collaborates with his wife and business partner, Deborah Kermode, who finishes the bowls he has carved, and the couple has a number of natural edge of bowls in “Family Tree.” 

David Keller’s dovetail jigs, revered in wood circles, are on display at the Petaluma Art Center’s “Family Tree” through March 13, 2011. Keller worked for Art Carpenter in the early 1970’s who demanded that all casework be dovetailed, a task that was painstakingly done by hand. Together Art and Dave recognized a need for a jig that could precision dovetails and Dave subsequently designed it, along with the first flush-trim router bit . His model 3600 jig that he designed long ago is still a best seller and his bit has revolutionized tool work.

Tools of the Trade

“All these makers love tools” says Hanna, “whether it’s a bandsaw or a new industrial design machine.  Over the past 25 years, there have been major changes in the tools associated with achieving sculptural processes, in most cases designed by makers to meet a specific design need.”  

Dave Keller, of Petaluma, who apprenticed and then worked with Art Carpenter in the early 1970’s, refined Carpenter’s technique for uniform dovetail joinery into the Keller dovetail system in 1976.  Hanna has created a display of three of Keller’s aluminum templates and examples of different ways that dovetails are used. 

In "Alumination," Andrew Perkins painstakingly layered aluminum and maple and then cut and sanded to achieve exquisite patterning in his table. Photo: Geneva Anderson

John de Marchi is a Petaluma sculptor and machinist/welder renowned for his finely-designed hand tools for woodworking.  De Marchi fabricates new tools from scratch out of the finest steel available and also elegantly refurbishes old tools.

Rising Stars

The community gallery presents a snapshot of some of the latest developments in furniture design through student artists from the Wood Furniture Design Program at California College of the Arts.  These rising stars were asked to respond to various design problems posed by their instructors and you’ll see cutting-edge works in a variety of style, materials and intents.

Andrew Perkins’ stunning table “Alumination” is a clever use of aluminum, a very flexible material, which has been layered with maple wood and then cut and sanded to expose elegant metal patterning whose exposure increases as the table leg tapers downward.  Perkins is a 2010 CCA student recipient of the Ronald and Anita Wornick Award for exceptional talent in furniture design.

Noah Brezel’s “percival” (2009) is a functional seat with 12 legs that looks a lot like a spider.  Brezel took cherry edgebanding and glued it and bent it over a curve to create some highly complex intersections.  Brezel is interested in creating functional furniture with a perceived frailty and uses traditional hand-craftsmanship along with 3D computer modeling and laser cutting. 

Noah Brezel’s “percival” (2009) is a functional seat with 12 legs fashioned from cherry edgebanding and cherry veneer, 32’ x 41’ x 17’. Brezel has attempted to bridge the gap between craft and design and strives for clean lines. Photo: Geneva Anderson

Michele Marti deconstructs Victorian furniture and then reconstructs it for her own purposes.   “The Curious Sofa” has been formed by joining two Victorian chairs together to form a single sofa that forces two people sitting on the chair together to rub knees, a very un-Victorian thing to do.  “Victorian’s Spread” similarly co-joins two chairs and indelicately references America’s weight gain.  Marti and student colleague Brezel led a chair- making workshop at SFMOMA last year as part of its 75th anniversary celebration.   

Wood’s Rising Stature:

In the contemporary craft world, wood is still a little bit of an underdog that has yet to be discovered in the big way that glass or ceramics have been in craft collecting  and  museum circles, explains Julie Muniz, Associate Curator of Crafts and Decor, Oakland Museum of CA.  “Today’s wood craftsmen are really exploring the material in new ways and pushing the boundaries beyond the vessel and chair and into some very interesting installation pieces with some sort of commentary and conceptual element behind it.  All this speaks very well for wood’s repositioning as a vibrant conceptual craft form.”

Michele Marti's "Curious Sofa" is a gorgeous spoof on Victorian morays as well as furniture design. Two people sitting on this plushly upholstered seat are forced to touch knees, a very un-Victorian thing to do. Photo: courtesy Michele Marti

Muniz has worked closely with Ron and Anita Wornick of Healdsburg and San Francisco, whose wood collection was the basis of the Oakland Museum of CA’s 1997 show  “Expressions in Wood: Masterworks from the Wornick Collection.” Having amassed one of the most important conceptual craft collections in the country, and enthusiastically nurtured and supported wood artists through purchases, endowments, and fellowships, the Wornicks are now pushing to get wood its long due recognition in the country’s leading museums.  “Wood will only be elevated to the level of fine art when the best of the work gets into fine arts museums and gets the exposure and recognition it deserves to stand beside other things that are more readily accepted as fine art,” said Ron Wornick.

In 2007, the Wornicks bequeathed 250 pieces from their conceptual craft collection to Boston Fine Arts Museum, including the 120 works in the MFA’s 2007 exhibition “Shy Boy, She Devil and Isis: The Art of Conceptual Craft.”  In 2009, they gave several wood pieces to the Oakland Museum of CA’s wood collection.  Earlier this year, they gave 100 pieces to Racine Art Museum (RAM) in Wisconsin in conjunction with its “Knock Wood” exhibition celebrating wood’s entrance to RAM’s permanent collection.  Their collection includes pieces by many of the master artists in “Family Tree.”

Ron and Anita Wornick attended “Family Tree’s” opening and were impressed.  “Shows like this one here in Petaluma are critical in raising public awareness about how far wood has come,” said Wornick.  “I ended up spending a lot time there.  Normally an exhibition is a little more horizontal in terms of a certain time frame or artist, but this one went all the way from Gary Knox Bennett, who is as old as tree and one of the originals, to Barbara Holmes and Chris Loomis (who are mid-career) and these three represent a 40 to 50 year time span of making in this language.  There was real discernment in the selection of pieces too.  And not only did it have a range of artists and works but there were also some inexperienced collectors there too and it was fun to see all of this unfold.”

Artist Talk:  Saturday, March 5, 2011,  2-4 pm  Ashley Eriksmoen: From Vikings to Lasers: One Woodworker’s Journey Seeking Appropriate Technologies for Creative Work

To construct complex, asymmetrical, organic forms, sometimes the best technology involves 21st century lasers, and sometimes it requires hand methods used by 9th century Vikings.  An understanding of both can bring the best possible solution in Eriksmoen’s sculptural furniture work.  Ashley Jameson Eriksmoen has exhibited at galleries and museums nationwide including the Fuller Museum and Pritam and Eames, and is the recipient of numerous awards and grants including the Norwegian Marshall Fund.  She has taught woodworking and design courses and workshops at several schools, including College of the Redwoods and California College of Art (and Craft).  Eriksmoen currently creates in her woodshop in Oakland.  Fee: $5 suggested donation.

Recommended Reading:

Woodturning in North America Since 1930 (Yale University Press, 2003) complete history of woodturning

The Maker’s Hand: American Studio Furniture, 1940-1990 (Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, 2009)

Made in Oakland: The Furniture of Gary Knox Bennett (American Craft Museum, now Museum of Arts & Design, 2001)

Expressions in Wood: Masterworks from the Wornick Collection (Oakland Musuem of CA, 1996 available at the museum store at the Oakland Museum of CA and online.)

Details: The Petaluma Arts Center is located at 230 Lakeville Street, at East Washington Street, in central Petaluma,  94952.  Gallery hours: Thursday- Monday, noon to 4 pm.  Phone: (707) 762-5600 or www.petalumaartscenter.org

March 4, 2011 Posted by | Petaluma Arts Council | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment