The Center for Furniture Craftsmanship in Rockport, Maine, is one of the arts education institutions that draw people to Maine to study the skills that lead to creativity. Like the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture, Haystack Mountain School of Crafts, Maine Media Workshops, Salt Institute for Documentary Studies, and Watershed Center for the Ceramic Arts, the Center for Furniture Craftsmanship is a practical, hands-on school where novices and emerging talents learn from master artists and craftspeople.
Though the center is primarily devoted to functional furniture, its Messler Gallery currently (through February 4, 2011) is featuring Contemporary Maine Wood Sculpture, a museum-quality exhibition of works by 18 artists, some of whom have furniture and woodworking backgrounds, all of whom use carved and carpentered wood to purely expressive ends.
Contemporary Maine Wood Sculpture was curated by former Center for Maine Contemporary Art curator Bruce Brown; wood sculptor Steve Lindsay; and artist, furniture maker and gallerist Duane Paluska. Lindsay and Paluska represent the aesthetic poles of the exhibition, Lindsay being a traditional woodcarver, Paluska an artist who uses woodworking skills in fabricating abstractions. Lindsay shows an uncannily lifelike 15-inch high pine figure of a local man, while Paluska contributes a six-foot angle of wood that combines artistry and joinery.
Jeff Kellar, a former furniture maker, is represented by a minimalist wall sculpture in the form of two wooden Xs treated with clay and resin. Matt Hutton, who teaches furniture and woodworking at the Maine College of Art, makes the most elaborate use of wood craftsmanship in a walnut and milk paint creation entitled “Vestigial Landmark #2,” which looks rather like the marriage of a shingled building with a piece of cabinetry.
Most of the other invitees are artists without (as far as I know) formal woodworking backgrounds. Anne Alexander carves fossil forms out of cedar, poplar, and mahogany. Cabot Lyford carves a torso out of black walnut. Barbara Andrus assembles structures of beech switches and jute in the naturalistic manner of Patrick Dougherty and Andy Goldsworthy. And Frederick Lynch and Charlie Hewitt construct wood sculptures that are 3-D manifestations of their paintings.
The level of technical finesse in the show ranges from the elegance of Tom Chapin’s spiny wall sculpture “Frequency and Modulation” to the raw folk quality of Lin Lisberger’s “Anchored: Hand Over Hand,” a boat, ladder and knotted line piece of cherry, apple, and beech. But for sheer folk imagination it would be hard to beat Andy Rosen”s “psst,” a fabled fox on stilts.
Contemporary Maine Wood Sculpture is a small show with a large mission – demonstrating and detailing the ways in which wood craft can become fine art.
[Messler Gallery, Center for Furniture Craftsmanship, 25 Mill St., Rockport ME, 207-594-5611.]