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Tuesday, July 15, 2008

An Artistic Legacy

Art Review

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  A sublime new exhibit, “Moulthrop Generations: Turned Wood Bowls by Ed, Philip and Matt Moulthrop,” arrives at the RacineArt Museum, the first venue to show the work of three generations of the Moulthrop family in one gallery. Seventy sculptural and sensuous vessels made of wood indigenous to the southeastern region of the United Statesare presented through Sept. 14.

  After earning an MFA in architecture from PrincetonUniversity, which led him to teach at the Georgia Institute of Technology, Ed Moulthrop (1916-2003) formally began the family’s wood-turning tradition in the 1970s. He even designed and constructed his own tools—another legacy that his son and grandson continue. Each of them shared the vision of fashioning extraordinary vessels from trees felled by lightning, or those destined for landfills or chipboards (known as trash trees).

  The late Ed Moulthrop’s most expressive piece is his sizable Tulipwood Bowl (1986), which presents a circular picture of nature with deep, variegated, chocolate-colored wood grains permeating the shallow bowl. The bowl has a 2.5-foot diameter.

  Ed’s son Philip developed 3-foot-high vase forms, as well as what is described as a mosaic bowl. His Bundled Mosaic Bowl (1998), from wild cherry wood and epoxy, presents a contrast of pattern.

  Matt Moulthrop added 134 new species to their repertoire of native woods, and created larger pieces such as the 3.5-foot-high Chalice, which is turned from holly. In fact, the Moulthrops produce some of the largest wood-turned pieces in the country, and their work has been collected by a variety of prestigious museums, including New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., and the Art Institute of Chicago.

  From miniature bowls to magnificent vase forms, these works of art uncover the stories of the trees from which they’ve been created. These organic containers require no contents to fill them except for the imagination. Perhaps every recycled tree, however momentarily, can remind us that even the scraps of today’s society often acquire a quintessential purpose and elegance when touched by gifted hands.