Cantos from the Woods
“Your art’s good is to follow nature insofar as it can.”
--Dante's Inferno (Canto XI)
My work leads me into forests to encounter how the fundamental forces of nature act on the figure of wood. Lightning strikes a tree, wind or rain batter it, frost heaves its roots. Ice breaks limbs from trunks, legions of ants leave their calligraphic prints on the soft wood beneath the bark, man and machine wade through…all and alike leaving behind dead wood. This for me is the vineyard of creative destruction where, to begin, the act of seeing is a type of making. First we may see how exterior contours suggest a rhythm, an essence, an evocation of nature’s abstract forms. Then the fifth compass point, in, reveals other spatial realities …holes, cavities, textures, tunnels, knobs, jagged asymmetricality…all part of the inherently transcendental nature of nature. This is the raw material for art of the natural world, where subtle manipulation of the artifacts renders these damaged but beautiful pieces at once works of nature and works of man. The pieces on display here all are from trees found in abundance across Massachusetts. This selection consists mainly of red oak, white and red cedar, elm, locust, birch, sugar maple and fruit woods such as apple and black cherry. As the philosopher stones of the East are understood as metaphors of the mountains where the greater spirits dwell, these sculptures seek to bring the outdoors in.
All of my pieces come from much larger sections of trees that are hauled back to my studio for evaluation. It can takes years, in some cases, for their potential as art to emerge. As that sense forms I begin to trim unwanted parts, remove material and shape the wood using traditional hand tools—chisels, mallets and rasps. I do not use finishes other than occasional light waxing. Hand rubbing helps to bring out natural colors and textures found in the wood. The pieces tend to assume names as they reveal a particular spirit or energy while I work with them, and often tell stories of the place where they lived and grew. For example, green blush in a black birch may speak to earlier farming practices whereby farmers put copper sulfate in cow ponds as a kind of herbicide to combat algae growth that made the water impotable for the cattle. Minerals from the soil leach into wood and can lend their distinctive hues to it. Or a black cherry (such as "Gitane," featured on this site) may have cankers caused by sheep nipping away the new buds at the base of the tree. The presentation of the pieces, how they are mounted on their bases, is an important consideration and is often one of the most challenging aspects of finishing a piece.