Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Wharton Esherick Museum and Black Walnut Stool Seats

While visiting my parents in Maryland, my dad had the wonderful idea to schedule a tour of Wharton Esherick's home and furniture/sculpture studio in Paoli, PA, outside of Philidelphia.  His home has been turned into a museum and tours can be scheduled from the link provided.  If you are interested in wood sculpture and you live close by Philidelphia or are in the area, I highly recommend a visit.  No photos were allowed inside this treasure, but check out his work via the museum website or a simple google image search. The photos I have provided are of the exterior which does not represent his work

Wharton was alive from 1898 to 1970 and he was a wild and crazy artist.  He lived in the hills outside of Phili because it was all he and his wife at the time could afford.  After studying drawing, print making and painting at various institutions of art, he dropped out of the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art 6 weeks before graduation because he had not found his own style.  On a trip with his wife he bought his first set of wood tools and found his medium.  He carved frames for his paintings and then moved to block prints.  He progressed to furniture and functional sculpture and sculpture alone.

I have never seen so much amazing work in one place and I felt like I was walking in to my own dreams.  The organic forms, as well as simplicity in design resonates with the philosophy of my own process.  His connection with the material has inspired and influenced me more than any sculptor I have ever seen.  I believe the work of Wharton Esherick should be shared with people who are interested in this blog.  His life is poetry in motion, his process is at the core what I seek to emulate.  A special thanks to Wharton Esherick for being a nut.

Upon returning home, my dad and I had a few days to spend in his workshop.  I decided to use Black Walnut, one of Esherick's most commonly used wood for sculpture, as well as my dad's, and make two stool seats for the trailer that were a similar style as the stools we saw in Esherick's home.  I was able to use my Great Grandfather's gouges and mallet, along with my dad's tools and workbench to carve the seats.

I started by drawing some organic shapes on the wood and rough cutting the shape with a band saw.  Next I used a gouge and a mallet to take away the majority of the material.  Finally I scraped the seat top smooth with the paisley shaped metal scraper pictured above.

While working, my dad offered lots of great advice.  First he suggested using an angle grinder with a sanding disc on it, instead of a gouge.  I did not take this piece of advice because I like using hand tools.  As I was working I was thinking about process and why I did not want to "save time" with the grinder.  Carving is a process for me and using the angle grinder really takes away from the enjoyment of the process.  You have to use ear phones and eye protection, and you make a lot of fine particulate matter dust, so it's best to wear a respirator.  When I was working I was listening and singing Fleetwood Mac's Pious Bird of Good Omen, the Rolling Stones, the Grateful Dead and having a good old time.  I would not have even heard the music if I was using the grinder.  I talked to my dad about why I didn't want to use the grinder and he agreed.  I thought it was a really important philosophy of craftsmanship and one that I have not explained in detail.

Frequently I write that I only used one or two tools on this piece.  I could sculpt with just and angle grinder and it would still be sculpting with only one tool, however the precision and process of hand tools makes the artwork different.  It takes longer and just as I was discussing in the After Shower Shake post, the time it takes allows for comprehension and discovery that does not happen with power tools due to their speed.  I'm not sure how to put it better than something is lost.  It took me a couple hours to make each stool seat, but I truly cherish the time I got to spend with my dad doing what we both love.  I am tearing up sitting in an airport terminal.  I will continue to be a broke romantic and it is in the spirit of Wharton Esherick that every single piece of art that I create will hold this emotional inertia and responsibility of craftsmanship.

Stool Seat Top

Gouged Stool Seat Bottom

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Building a tiny Kitchen Counter Top

Here are the first posted pics of the interior of the Leafspring!  The counter top and back splash are ready to go in.

The front of the trailer features three windows that offer great light and a view for cooking. The picture above is before the counter top was installed.

I received several boards of big leaf maple that have been drying for the last 5 years under the cover of a friend's wood shed.  With material in hand, I had the impetus to build a countertop.  All this material came from a single tree that fell in their yard.  Lots of it is spalted (i.e. has fungal rot, which causes the black lines in the wood you can see below).  The spalted material is not as hard or strong, but by laminating pieces that do not have spalt together with pieces that do have spalt I was able to strengthen the counter top and keep the aesthetic appeal of the spalted lumber.

A special thanks goes out to a friend Tanner who helped me with the use of Evergreen State College's wood shop.  After processing the material in the shop, which included joining and planing boards, ripping them into 2" strips, and cutting grooves for biscuits, I returned home to laminate.  Thanks to Rama Lash for his advice on how to laminate.  I alternated the grain pattern of the 2" strips and glued them together with Tite Bond III, 3 boards at a time.

I made lots of sketches with Joelle and then we cut cardboard templates and held them in place to feel out what the counter top would be like.  

I traced onto the laminated boards and cut out the counter top shapes.  I returned to Evergreen one last time and planed the counter top then used the time saver to belt sand to 100 grit.  Upon arriving at my house, I used an orbital palm sander to sand to 220 grit.    

After the finishing process the counter top looked like this.  I have another post coming soon that will go into detail on the process of using Tung Oil to finish the counter top and back splash.

Rama Lash commissioned me to build these brackets, but they were not used on the building project, so they have been sitting for almost a year.  I saw the counter top as a great opportunity to utilize the brackets to keep space available underneath and avoid the use of too many posts.

Two cedar posts were used (excess from the kitty ladder project).  I used a draw knife to shape the cedar pieces and supported either side of the Magic Chef  RV oven/range with the posts.  

The kitchen awaits plumbing, propane and some finish work, but it is well on it's way to providing meals and snacks during construction!  

Friday, April 11, 2014

Copper Roof Cap

This is my first custom commission from an artist!  It is my honor to host the work of metalsmith Travis Conn.

It is not everyday you meet an artist with the talent of Mr. Conn.  His raised sheet metal work has taken my breath away since the first day I saw it.  I have since developed a friendship with Travis and learned a great deal from his amazing portfolio and the tenacity he has endured family and health catastrophes.  This roof cap is the pinnacle of my construction project and I hope to some day inspire others the way that I have been inspired by Travis Conn. Thank you.  

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Northern Pygmy-Owl

We spotted this Nothern Pygmy-Owl (Glaucidium gnoma) in the lower Skokomish Valley of the Olympic Peninsula a few weeks ago.  It was sitting on a branch during the afternoon just about 10 feet off of the trail.  We stood and watched for a while before we could figure out it was an owl.  Mostly the size threw us off, it was only about 5 inches tall.  It has markings on the back of it's head which look like angry eyes, but are not visible in the picture.  This is a cropped picture, with no additional photo editing.  

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Third Beach to Oil City

Last weekend we set out on the first camping trek of the year.  We did a coastal hike on the Olympic peninsula.  It was 16.1 miles and 3000 ft of elevation gain.  Where does elevation gain come from on a coastal hike?  Climbing over all of the big rock obstacles.  There are numerous rope assists to climb over the impassible areas of coast.  

We hit a wide variety of precipitation on this early March Olympic coastal hike.  The tidal shelves offer one of the most dynamic environments that I have experienced.  The conditions change from desolate to breathtaking in the matter of minutes.  The wind and weather sculpted surfaces seep into your soul.  

Monday, March 10, 2014

The After Shower Shake



I am just about finished a new carving that I like to call The After Shower Shake.  This piece has spurred many new experiences, most apparent being my new appreciation for the hook knife.  For most of my sculpture work to this point I have used a gouge

 and a chip carver knife.  I made the knife below 2 weeks ago.  It is made from an old file.  It was forged, hardened and tempered.

For this piece I only used the hook knife.

I have a new appreciation for the techniques of hook knife carving and am a dedicated student to deciphering my own style. The hook knife is used traditionally in lots of different cultures, but more notably for myself by Northwest coastal native carvers.  As I am not carving in the more typical template style carving that Northwest native carvers are notorious for, I am using similar techniques of template style carving more free form.

I am hoping to enter 2 pieces into an upcoming art show called Tree, at the A/NT Gallery on April 6th in Seattle.  The first being the Crouching Figure I carved about a year ago, and the second the after shower shake.  The figures are carved from the stump of a giant Western Red Cedar tree, trees that reigned in a different age.  I picked up these pieces of cedar in fields of slash and stumps, on a logging road near the Hoh river on the Olympic Peninsula.  They were already cut up.  Teams of workers use chainsaws to cut blocks of clear cedar from the stumps of the old growth trees.  They only take the perfect blocks and they fly helicopters in to pick up loads of the perfect bolts to cut shingles.  The pieces I collected were cast aside due to imperfections.

The Crouching Figure (above) has a strong sentiment of remorse.   The historical events of Washington State old growth forests are a classic, but tragic case of gold rush style resource depletion and a lack of stewardship for something of far greater importance than any profit made from clear sticks of lumber.  The mass exportation of old growth forests during the heydays of logging have left just a small fraction of this versatile and productive ecosystem.  This has brought me great remorse and introspection.  Now, I am able to walk through the graveyards of the once massive and vibrant forests.  Learning to care for the ecosystems that create intrinsic value and health for the inhabitants of the planet is necessary to learn about so when new resources are discovered that profit margins do not destroy the essence of the resource.

The second sculpture for entry is the one that nears completion today, the After Shower Shake.  This piece is a response to the remorse the first represents.  While the actions of people of the past have written the reality of the present moment, the resources that are at hand are immense, un-imaginable, and possibly infinite.  Rejoice and revelry are not lost.

When I began these sculptures, I did not understand the meanings that they have taken.  It was only through the journey of creation that these emotions were evoked.  I thought this morning about how long it takes me to carve a single thing out of wood, using hand tools and allowing the grain to shape the piece.  I am quick to compare the craft with another, say, ceramics that allows the artist to develop details and finished products quite rapidly.  I realized that the time it took me to complete both these sculptures was necessary for them to gain their meaning.  The pace of my process is increasing, however it is more like the transition of tricycle to scooter than walking to driving.

Monday, February 10, 2014

She Rolls...

After a few days of planning and a nerve racking first hook up to a pick up truck, the leafspring ROLLS.  I towed the trailer about a half a mile away to a new home.

With the aid of my friend Scott Hollis, we backed the trailer in to its new resting place beneath the cover of Douglas Fir boughs and next to my future shop.

Friday, January 3, 2014

Peach Pit Sculpture

Peach pits have a special place in my heart.  They are one of the first things that I learned how to carve with my dad when I was a kid.  He got me a knife and a pit for my birthday one year.  I probably was not that enthusiastic and then months later picked it up and asked my dad about carving a monkey.

My mom had shown me the monkey pendant that my dad carved for her ages before.  It had a gold chain and it was caught in the rat's nest of necklaces that lived within her jewelry box.  Of all my Dad's carvings I liked the monkey pit the best.  The monkey had it's tail in it's mouth and it resided in a fetal shape,   reminiscent of the seed.  My dad showed me what he called the cheaters method for carving the monkey.  We used the drill press and drilled three holes where the negative space would be and used the holes to start carving.

 The monkey was the first successful project I completed.  I made a necklace, then I made one for my friend and my carving days were few and far between after that.  As years passed I would carve a monkey every now and again, but never with the same energy as when I was working with my dad that first time.     

click to buy a peach pit monkey
I started carving pits again.  I approach it with the same awareness as when I was 12.  I let the shape of the pit guide the process.  I don't cheat anymore, i.e. I just use a knife and a file, no drill press.  Peach pits are my meditation.  When I'm waiting in line I have something in my pocket that helps me avoid impatience.  When my friends turn on a television, I reach in my pocket and find salvation.  Each time I find a treasure inside of a discarded seed I recognize the immense wealth of opportunity that abounds in what some view as waste.  Here are some photos of recent pit projects. 

There are 2 images of each pit, showing both sides.  This pit is two spirals each going a different direction and it encouraged me to try to carve a ram in the future. 

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Somewhere in Northern California...

After a 7 week long trip to Trinity County, California, I arrived safely home in the wee hours of the morning after an all night drive up the coast.  I'm not sure how I got involved in this one, but the weather was too nice to leave!  I ended up staying a few extra weeks.  I met an amazing and inspiring architect and got to work on a structure that was not your typical bathroom/kitchen remodel.  She designed and was building a Quonset hut (more like a corrugated metal rainbow building).

When I arrived on sight they had a 2000 square foot concrete pad poured with two shipping containers placed on the pad.  The containers where parallel, facing one another.  A local graffiti artist Chepe, painted the containers with a mural.

The mural on the adjacent side was of a woman stretched out, (pictured above) but I did not get many quality photos due to my camera getting eaten by my dog a few months ago.  Thanks to Ryan Boutcher for the photos I'm able to share.

  In this close up of the reclining woman you can see the sword fern stencils.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Rain Skirt and Windows...

This morning my 7 year old friend Stella and I wrapped the rain skirt up on the walls and taped the seams.  The pond liner protects the walls from the back splash from the rain and the house wrap will overlap it. 

After Stella's mom came and grabbed him, I finished cutting out all the window holes.  Here is a pic with the windows in place...

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Cedar Fascia Boards

With the aid of a friend with a bandsaw mill, I received some wide pieces of cedar for the fascia boards.  Joelle Montez designed the cut-outs, and jig saw cut and carved the designs.   

The cedar caps the foam, but leaves ventilation for the air gap created by the furring strips. 

The next focus was the back gable end fascia boards.  Joelle designed and cut out the boards and I thought about a piece of art for the back gable peak.

I cut out a piece of old growth western red cedar in the shape of a swallow.

After cutting the pattern with a bandsaw I spent a day carving the lines in the swallow to make him look like he is swooping down from the fascia. 

Here is a close up of the swallow attached on the gable fascia.