My most recent table, made out of maple stair treads and desk pieces, chestnut from a piano, steam bent quarter-sawn oak, and LVL.
I was proud to display a chair at the Sculptural Objects and Functional Arts Expo this year in the Anderson Ranch Arts Center special exhibit! I felt very honored to be alongside so many artists I respect and admire. It was fun to see everyone, too. Thanks ARAC.
The Beast is a large-scale installation by my friend and oft-collaborator John Preus. I am proud to have assisted in bringing his vision to fruition. I hope you will visit HPAC and traverse its cavernous bowels, in which I have collaborative works on display (skinned leather upholstry stretched like pelts on wooden frames). On may 3 (3:00-4:30pm), I will be joining the house band New Material for a performance.
More information and a calendar of programs below:
“Intertwining spectacle and site, John Preus’ The Beast, becomes a new space for cultural inquiry, public dialogue and creative production within the Hyde Park Art Center. Preus will transform the main gallery’s interior with a complex architectural framework inspired by the form of a dead steer emblematic of violence and sacrifice, fabricating the structure from harvested materials including upholstery leather and discarded wood and furniture from recently closed Chicago Public Schools. Existing as an type of community center throughout the span of the exhibition, The Beast will be activated through corresponding performances, discussions and educational offerings programmed by the artist and collaborators. An updated calendar of events is provided. The belly of The Beast includes storytelling, live music, sermons, panel discussions, dinners, and more to explore the use and social value of public space, and how collective experience can encourage the development of a better city.”
A few weeks ago, I invited Maureen Sill (a friend and talented photographer) to bring her camera over to my studio. Thanks Maureen! Here are a few resulting photographs from her visit:
I am officially halfway through my ten-week residency at Anderson Ranch Arts Center in Snowmass Village, CO., so I thought it would be a good time to share a little bit of what I’ve been up to. One intention I had for this residency was to return to a body of work that I have put on hold for a couple of years–I really wanted to continue steam bending.
The process interests me as an act of energy transference. When I bend heated wood, I actually manipulate the cellular structure of the material. A nerve impulse from my brain tells the muscle fibers in my arm to contract, moving the fibers of the wood over one another. The energy of my body blends into the material. The material reacts, remembers. A bent piece of wood is a relic of this exchange.
One bent piece might be enough for me to convey this idea, but bending multiple pieces makes the process a ritual. Steam bending is a time-sensitive task; the wood is exposed to steam for one hour per inch of thickness, and then there are only a couple of minutes to get the wood into its new form before it cools and hardens. For this to happen smoothly, I need to use the clock as a tool, and be there at the ideal moment… every time.
This ritual adds a character of its own to the documented exchange of energy in each bent piece of wood. A piece comprised of more than eighty pieces of bent ash lumber—tapered and joined together into a single entity—contains a rich history: A tree dies and falls in a storm, is recognized by a craftsman who becomes its caretaker, is taken to a one-man mill to be thoughtfully cut into ideal sections for building, is air-dried on the caretaker’s property, is sought after by a neighbor (a maker) with whom it shares a friendly exchange of energy—piece, after piece, after piece.
Now for the next chapter, in which I show you the result of this exchange…
While in Ohio for the holidays, I stopped by my friend Jack Esslinger’s house to pick up some wood for my upcoming residency at Anderson Ranch. He had quite a bit of white oak and ash (both excellent species for steam bending), milled from local trees. Jack isn’t in the business of selling his lumber, but he was nice enough to let me purchase some boards that might not have been as useful to him for his own projects. He’s an exceptional craftsman, and is someone who has inspired me to do what I do. In fact, the majority of steam bent sculptures I have done thusfar have been made with white oak from his property. We had to pull the wood on toboggans through about eight inches of freshly fallen snow to get it up to the house, where our truck was parked.
The wood is perfect for me. It is quarter-sawn, which provides me with the long, straight grain figure needed to achieve strong bends with minimal breakage. Jack also air dries the wood himself, storing the stickered piles in the fields surrounding his house. Air drying the wood means it will retain a higher moisture content than it would if it were kiln dried (today’s industry standard). A higher moisture content means that heat energy will be transferred more thoroughly throughout the board during the steaming process, resulting in more successful bends.
I love working with materials I can relate to. The fact that every aspect of this material is local to my Ohio home—grown, felled, milled, dried/stored, and bought from a friend—makes it ever more meaningful for me when I set my hands upon it. The vivacity of the lumber reflects its Ohio roots, and the sensitivity of its caretaker, Jack. These are qualities I can know and touch. These are qualities I hope to maintain in the finished work.