Category Archives: space and surface works


Anyone working mindfully within a tradition faces the challenge of setting themselves apart from their influences, of paying homage without appearing derivative.  Being an admirer of Giorgio Morandi’s work, last year I started a project that engages his still life paintings by way of woodworking.  I’ve visited the reproduction of his studio in the Museo Morandi in Bologna, and one of the things that struck me was the specificity and singularity of the objects that he was arranging and observing for his paintings.  Bottles were painted either inside or outside, labels on boxes were painted over, dust was allowed to collect.  The personalities that he was tamping down were further suppressed through the act of painting.  These aren’s so much collections of individuals as they are pieces of a puzzle, and the collective mass has a unity that resonates with the care and efficiency that exudes precision and purpose.

Postcard photograph of objects in the studio, Museo Morandi, Bologna

I wondered if these seemingly innocuous objects could be extracted from the group context and reinvested with value as an individual.  The way I went about it was to turn wooden objects on the lathe.  The objects are “similar” rather than precise copies of those found in the paintings, and this allows shifts in scale to equate with shifts in vision or attention.  Because they are meant to be seen individually, the objects are not subject to direct comparison.  One of the hazards of this venture became readily apparent– the possibility that the objects would slip back into their utilitarian niche so tightly as to be insignificant or unrecognizable as objects of art.  To help ward this off, I have been using green wood and have not been hollowing out the forms.  They keep the appearance of the vessel without actually becoming one, and as the wood dries it develops distinctive cracks.  The one thing they still manage to contain is information, since the group is developing acting as an index of local species.  This gets involved with ideas that are of interest to me in my painting and my collection of artificial plants– the power of illusion to inform but not supply, a territory of recognition kept off balance by a shifting definition of “usefulness”.

vase (black walnut), 2013

bottle (cherry), 2013

bottle (tulip magnolia), 2013

bottle (black oak root), 2013

Regional Arts Commission Artist Support Grant

I was excited to learn that I received one of the Regional Arts Commission’s Artist Support Grants this summer.  My proposal was a request for funds to purchase a large-capacity band saw for use in re-sawing some of the reclaimed and green wood that I have been using so much lately.  Can’t wait to purchase the tool and seeing what takes shape in the studio.  Many thanks to RAC for so generously and effectively supporting the arts in the Midwest.  25 out of 185 applicants received funding– here is a list of the winners and a brief description of their project proposals:

July 1, 2013: Spring/Summer 2013 RAC ARTISTS SUPPORT GRANTS

Regional Arts Commission (RAC) Artists Support Grants are designed to provide direct funds for artists’ projects, needs, and creative opportunities in all disciplines. Direct support enables diverse artists of all disciplines to advance their careers. It is designed to be flexible and accessible and to encourage creativity, innovation, entrepreneurship and sustained commitment to artistic work. The awards to 25 artists for the Spring/Summer round ranged from $640 to $3000.

Alec Herschman (Literature) Published poet producing first book length poetry project and website. Funds for time and space to complete project.

Amy Loui (Theater) Attending classes at the International Theatre Lab in Austria with master theatre director Sergei Ostrenko in a specific technique to advance her work as an actor.

Bill Perry (Visual Art – Ceramics) Purchasing kiln and set-up materials in his studio for bird sanctuary project as well as advancing his other ceramic work.

Carlie Trosclair (Visual Art – Installation) First New York exhibition – Materials and expenses for a new site-specific installation in DUMBO (Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass) area gallery.

Cat Mahari Johnson (Dance) Choreography and multi-media production of “the floor” based on the African American tradition of stepping.

Daniel Fishback (Visual Art – Painting) Painting workshops with master artist Todd Williams in Arkansas as well some supplies and materials.

Daniel John Kelly (Theater) Acquisition of green screen for video production projects with St. Louis students studying Shakespeare.

Denise Ward Brown (Visual Art – Installation) Production, equipment, and documentation about Civil War era soldiers re-interned at Jefferson Barracks using “Ken Burns” technique for film and art installations as well as for integration with a book about use of protective charms in African/African American cultures.

Grace Hong (Visual Art – Interactive) Materials, space, and equipment for creating an interactive arts project based on a game titled “ESC: Running into the Present.”

Ilene Berman (Visual Art – Installation) Design and fabrication of mobile art studio north of Grand Center called Room13 Delmar that is designed to engage communities.

JaNae Contag (Visual Art – Film/Video) Documenting (and transforming through film) vacant spaces in suburban and exurban American – particularly empty malls around the Midwest as “ghosts” of commerce.

Jessica Baran (Literature) Support for some of prize-winning writer’s travel expenses for her book tour for her recently published book of poetry, “Equivalents.”

John Sarra (Visual Art – Wood) Sculptor acquiring special saw as a way to increase capacity for using reclaimed wood in his work.

Joseph LaMarque (Visual Art – Multi) Artist will acquire metal sculpting equipment as well as instruction in its use adding to his skill set as a sculptor.

Kirk Hanser (Music – classical) Accomplished musician – part of classical guitar duo (Hanser- McClellan Guitar Duo) – will use funds for October 2013 European tour. He will play in concert as well as instruct in Austria, Germany and France.

Liam Cassidy (Multi-media – sound) Sound equipment for “Cheap Fun” – an innovative, artist- driven podcast featuring short stories.

Lois Ingrum (Visual Art – Photography) Equipment and production of continuing documentation of grassroots memorials as well as helping to expand exhibition capabilities.

Marilyn Robinson (Visual Art – Photography) Production of a DVD of documentation of Super Sunday celebrations in NOLA. These celebrate the uniquely New Orleans tradition of “Black Indians” – African American social/neighborhood clubs that create elaborate costumes for parading.

Mario Farwell (Music + Theater) Composing and production of new work – an original musical called “Starfest.”

Noah Kirby (Visual Art – Sculpture) Time, space & materials for new body of large scale collaborative sculptures for exhibition at National Ornamental Metals Museum (Memphis) in February 2014.

Rebecca Ormand (Visual Art – Film) Production of multi-media film using 3D and 2D techniques. Footage of St. Louis historic sites and building are the theme.

Robert Longyear (Visual Art – Metal/Multi) Materials and expenses for creating new body of work for exhibition at Indiana State Galleries.

Rosalind Early (Literature) Researching and creating writing pieces documenting the history of an Afro-Caribbean traditional festival called Odunde that has taken place in Philadelphia.

Sarah Paulsen (Visual Art – Animation) Stop-motion animation film production – examining all sides of the events leading up to and in the aftermath of Kirkwood City Council shooting. Working in collaboration with a group of “unintentional women activists” brought together after the death of Councilwoman Connie Karr.

Stephen Peirick (Theater) First production of new full length play “Four Sugars.”
The next round for RAC Artists Support Grants opens September 9 with an October 15 deadline.

All submissions are through . For more information, 314/863-5811.


reclaimed wood

This old beam measures 15 inches on each side, and is six and a half feet long. Although pierced by two large bolts, it has a bright future...


The excitement associated with reclaiming old lumber never seems to fade.  In March my friend Jeff pointed me towards a discard pile at a local construction site, and with the company’s blessing we were able to pick out a selection of beams with some good life left in them.  The building was originally a factory built in 1870, so it was full of old-growth pine.  The floor boards were a full three inches thick, and even with the grooves trimmed the finished blanks are still a healthy 5 1/2″ wide.  Some re-sawn sections can stretch to seven inches wide.  There had been a fire, and most of the wood was coated with a thick layer of soft wax.  Although this is likely to affect subsequent finish work, it also has a preservative effect.  I used one of the beams to make this custom mantel (below) for a friend’s new home.  There was some tear-out on the top face of the beam that needed patching, so I decided to try my hand at making an inlay.  Since this was for a book artist and a newly married couple, the imagery suggested itself.


The finished mantle. Cracks and nail holes, visible on the top face, have been filled with black pigment. The front face is clear with perfect, rift-sawn grain.

You can get a glimpse of the tight annual rings here, and the shift from the pink heartwood to the blond sapwood.


This is the finished inlay, which serves as both a meaningful decoration and a practical patch. Everyone should have at least one book on their mantel, right?


The first step of the inlay process was to clean up the tear-out around a large nail hole, which is visible here in the center of the recess. I used a piece of cherry as the book cover.

I needed a couple of book-matched pieces for the pages, of course, and was pleased to be able to trim this spalted maple in such a way as to reveal the "heart" at the top of the book. After inlaying these two pieces, I cut two slices of pine with suitably curved grain to create the dimensional effect of the stacked pages (see finished inlay, above).

natural edge board at LV SK8 Six

If you happen to be in Las Vegas on July 6th, swing by the Get Up Gallery (520 Freemont Street) to catch the opening of LV SK8 Six, a show of custom painted skateboards.  Well, I suppose we’ll have to use the word “painted” somewhat  loosely.  Participating artists were provided with a standard blank deck.  These are  made of seven-ply maple, and are pressed into a complex form which provides  a concave surface and an inclined nose and tail.

Instead of a traditional paint job I opted for building out the bottom of the deck with a thick slab of cottonwood bark.  I suppose that I was inspired by the cross-sections of the natural edge bowls that I have been making.  In any case it seemed to be a good use for the bark, which had been hanging around my studio for a few years.

Initial construction involved cutting the bark to rough length and carving it out to match the contours of the board. For final fitting in the center I was able to use the deck itself as a sanding block.


Tail detail showing the natural clefts and striations in the bark. I applied shellac and wax to the cut surfaces, but left the outer (gray) face natural.

Bottom view of board, showing the slight taper on the edges. The truck mounting holes have been drilled through the bark, and although I originally thought I might recess a rectangle for each baseplate I later decided that it would be too disruptive.

The finished deck. To my eye it has connotations of the thick-soled shoes that became popular among skateboarders in the late 80's.

I worked for as seamless a finish as possible in the joinery between the bark and the deck, because I wanted it to appear almost as if it had been peeled straight off of a tree.  I removed the manufacturer’s finish from the top of the deck and applied several coats of shellac, sanding to a fine finish.  This was then polished with paste wax and rubbed out to a silky smoothness.  The overblown textural contrast between the top and bottom of the board is meaningful to me in that it represents my own experience of skateboarding, friction and coarseness are interwoven with smoothness and speed.