Meet the Sculptures

How I Got to Where I’m Going

By 2015 I felt that the muti-hollow server project was successful and coming to a closure. It was time to drop the need for functionality, which was starting to be a encumbrance, not an enhancement. 

Almost every day I have the good fortune to take a walk through our woodlands. It’s always inspiring.

The freshly cut hollow maple, material for Series 1-4 small sculptures.

During the multi-hollow server years I was looking at a leaning and twisted hard maple tree that had an unusual open slit running up the trunk for about fifteen feet. I’m guessing that the maple had been damaged when another tree came down. Somehow, this maple continued to live. Until one day when I asked Rodney Webb -- a neighbor who’s skillful with a chain saw -- to drop it.

I sawed off a slice or two from the hollow maple, to get a good look. 

I immediately found that the extensive inner chamber of the maple is as wondrous and inspiring as the exterior. On the margins of the slits, the woody growth curves inwards forming an elegant volute. Inside, much was gone. But much remained. The hollowing is the work of fungal decay, insects at various life stages, maybe the work and excrement of  birds or rodents. There’s also myriad tunnels, with woody stalactites and stalagmites. Where the slit closes, the interior hollowing continues; the cross-section transforms from a C to an O.

The hollow is also filled with lots of debris. Some I can identify. The leftover stuff from decay, insect frass --poop and wood chips, termite tunnel junk, bits of old

Tools and rig used for working on hollow maple series.

spider webs, and I don’t know what else.

All this natural trash needs to be cleaned out, which is mostly done with dental hygienist tools and a small wire brush and compressed air. When I come to fragile elements, I must decide what will be removed, or preserved. Removal is easier, but some forms are so fascinating that I decide to keep them. There’s always partially rotten wood that needs to go. Or not.

The bark in areas where the tree was still living (metabolizing – still growing new wood, twigs and leaves – is firmly attached. But in other places the beautiful bark is about to go – perhaps this looseness happened from the shock of the falling tree.  I usually want to keep the bark, so I’ve learned how to glue it in place. And then I stiffen the bark, so that it’s not too fragile.

These hollow maple pieces also have hidden chambers and passageways. If you’re interested, you’ll want to find them.

One of best materials for preserving fragile, punky stuff is cyanoacrylate glue, better known as Super Glue or

Hollow maple Series 1.

Crazy Glue.

As the maple log dried – it was stored outdoors and in a drafty part of our barn -- small mushrooms began to grow on the surface of the bark and the end-grain. Mostly called turkey tails, these ‘shrooms are leathery, flat wavy forms. They’re quite beautiful, so I do my best to preserve them in situ.  These new growths also get the super-glue treatment.

A mental game that I play with the hollow maple work is to imagine that they are much larger than they seem to be. Ten or twenty times larger. Then your exploration of the form becomes a very different adventure. Sometimes I take photo with tiny people who visit from an architectural model builder’s studio. I started doing this with the multi-hollow servers.

Screw Feet. These first came about when I was finding a way to paint the work, particularly with spray can enamels. The initial idea is that the feet raise the sculpture, for the airborne paint, and to make moving wet pieces easier. I also found that these sculptures have an appealing appearance elevated about a half-inch above the display surface. The screws also protect the paint at the contact points, and they indicate how the piece should be placed after you pick it up.

I started by using painted screws. Not the same colors as the piece is painted, but instead screws saved from the painting of another piece. At some point I transitioned to using unpainted brass screws.

Some people -- including Louise – object to the screws. I should be using something else that is either more organic, or maybe crafty. My reply is that the screws function perfectly. They

Copper stud detail for Series 2, number 2.

elevate the art, and protect the surfaces. The screws are adjustable, for both height and stability – which can be a challenge when more than three points are used as a base. I also like that they are a little annoying. It adds to the engagement factor.

Signature numbering system. With the multi-hollow servers, I initiated a standardized signature, dating and numbering system. The signature (and year) is my initials, incised and filled with a non-soluble colorant -- finely ground coffee. For sequential numbering, I devised a system that utilizes small copper studs. Signature and numbering is always on the underside (the bottom) of each server.

For the more recent, non-functional sculptures I dropped the incised signature and modified the numbering system. Now the numbering becomes the signature. There’s no dated year, since many of these were made during winters that span two calendar years.

The numbering system uses the same copper studs from the multi-hollow servers. These are inset somewhere that resembles where paintings are usually signed. But this isn’t quite correct because most of these pieces can be displayed in various orientations. One stud represents number 1, two studs for 2, and going up to five studs. These are placed side by side in a horizontal row. For six onwards there are two rows. The lower row studs still equal 1; the upper row studs equal 5. As an example, number six has one stud on the bottom row, and one stud above in the upper. Six looks like a colon :

Naming the sculptures. Often, when people look at something that’s abstract or non-representative -- like clouds -- they will comment that ‘this looks like a running horse’ or whatever. This can be in nature, or manmade. I try not to do this. In the beginning of this text I explained that I want the viewer to look at the work for just what it is  -- not a piece of drift wood, or whatever. Never-the-less, there’s times when I adopt a title for these pieces. I just can’t help it. Two that I can think of are Good Night Moon (AP-8  .:.  and Hominid (BA-6 : .Outdoors Sculpture 3, made with a naturally fallen wild apple tree was Bhuto Dancer.

Four Series. The Hollow Maple Pieces were made in four sequential but overlapping series, defined by painting technique and paint material.

The copper stud numbers are linked with the abbreviations. Numbers start fresh with each series.