August 10-16, 2006

Arts : Art
One Good Turn

Artists team up to go against the grain at the Wood Turning Center.

by Robin Rice

Irish lathe artist Liam Flynn admits that before his summe residency at the Wood Turning Center, he was suspicious o collaboration, a practice he'd heard was "popular i America." He imagined collaborations were simply "som person's work on top of another person's work," perhaps dilution and distortion of both

Today, after two months in the WTC's International Turning Exchange, Flynn is a happy collaborator. Hilary Pfeifer, another of seven participants in the residency, now in its 12th year, describes the experience. "The love of design became our common thread. It was a real, pure collaboration." Flynn and Pfeifer's work together involved turning some weird materials, like pegboard. Flynn shares Pfeifer's assessment, "It's not my work and it's not her work. It's a joint work. It was fun to do ... a lovely experience."

This year's "ITE-ites," as they're sometimes called, included four lathe turners, a furniture maker and a scholar. All ended up working in various combinations with others on art objects. Everyone collaborated, in a sense, with ITE videographer and painter Vincent Romaniello. His delightful short film about the residency is included in the current exhibition "allTURNatives: Form + Spirit" at the WTC, as are examples of each artist's individual work, a few of Romaniello's paintings, and many collaborative works.

The ITE Fellows have access to a woodshop at the University of the Arts and live in a nearby dorm. They also visit regional collectors and museums to acquire interesting wood and learn from one another.

Albert LeCoff, director of the WTC, says that the program does not require collaboration, but it has certainly become a tradition whose unique outcome is much anticipated by the local art community.

The largest single piece in the show is an installation built by Pfeifer in a light well outside the museum library. Designed to be seen through three windows, small suspended shapes are massed in primary colors (blue, red and yellow). Time and weather ring changes on the vignette.

Pfeifer and Australian Neil Scobie collaborated on What the Flock?, a low walnut bowl whose broad rim is amusingly decorated with chocolate brown flocking in a wood grain pattern.

Scobie's individual pieces are mostly vessels. At the ITE he explored a motif of carved, weblike, elliptical openings which he says he's been considering for some time. Erosion Forms is a trio of small, standing panels of bleached white oak, each containing an area of this organic pattern surrounding a larger opening.

Scobie and Canadian Marilyn Campbell made several memorable works, but the nicest among them almost didn't happen. It's a tripartite Wall Piece in which Scobie's vertical undulating panels of white holly frame lacy black insets by Campbell. Campbell says, "Neil had cut out the wavy shapes just to see what they would look like and was going to toss them. I said, 'Wait a minute!'"

This pair also made a Fetish Family group of pod-shaped forms studded with nails. Campbell picked up this form from Scobie and says, "They were fun! I think I'm going to continue." Almost a positive version of Scobie's elliptical negatives, the pods, sometimes called "squirts," became one of the common motifs of the fellowship, decorated differently by various artists. Scobie and Flynn got together on some they call Silence of the Squirts .

Campbell uses a lot of detailed surface decoration and piercing and painstakingly casts resin to fit into specific parts of a work. Two small symmetrical winged vessels on individual stands (Black Lace and To the Top) combining white holly with networks of black resin are among the standouts of the show.

Refined surface patterning characterizes Flynn's elegant vessels of both classical and experimental silhouette, but his signature element is an "inner rim," a narrow interior lip that suggests that a second smaller vessel hides inside the larger one.

Furniture maker Jo Stone, who is showing a number of works including a fine pre-ITE wall cabinet, teamed up with Scobie to make a sweet pair of Entrance Tables. They shaped them identically and decorated them individually. Like the squirt shapes, the three-sided curved legs, which Stone and Scobie call "pregnant triangles," are shapes that reappear in the work of their colleagues.

The quintessential collaboration arose from a bowl that shattered when resident scholar Dennis Carr, doctoral candidate in American decorative arts at Yale University, tried turning. Pfeifer and Scobie covered a large slice-like fragment with grit and filled it with pods. The exteriors are studded with pink-headed wooden matches. It resembles the rind of a surreal fruit holding smaller pieces of the same bizarre species. The matches on this Art Object to Be Destroyed might fulfill the purpose of the title. But the title, dating back to Man Ray, also reminds us that a subtractive or destructive process like turning — or, even, breaking things— can be the foundation of creativity.


"allTURNatives: Form + Spirit," through Oct. 23, Wood Turning Center, 501 Vine St., 215-923-8000,

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