Fleur Bresler approaches a tall, shelved wall in her home where a fraction of her collection is housed, “This is not a museum. Almost every item we have can be picked up, can be touched… can be moved and can be felt.” She reaches over and lovingly handles one of the countless wood objects for which she has now become known. The grain and lustre of the piece looks as though it was simply made to be handled. Bresler jokes, “My husband says I must cease and desist… so I’ve started buying very small pieces. It takes him longer to find them.”
One look at the array of unique wood crafts lining the walls of Bresler’s home makes it clear that this woman has a passion for this incredibly organic material and the artists that work with it.
The Smithsonian American Art Museum is currently exhibiting 66 pieces of contemporary wood art from the Bresler collection at The Renwick Gallery, a branch of the Smithsonian devoted exclusively to craft and decorative arts. The collection includes works made through the techniques of turnery and carving, and includes objects made by some of the best-known wood artists working today. The Bresler’s gift is one of the largest of wood art given to any American museum, and many of the pieces are being placed on public display for the first time.
Wood turning describes the act of shaping a block of wood with handheld tools as it spins on a lathe, the medium’s foundational tool. The technique, though used in carpentry for centuries, has only been employed by artists in the United States since the 1940s. However, since the 70s a new generation of wood workers has taken up this ancient technique. It has exploded from the inside, producing exquisitely expressive objects of beauty and grace. The exhibition includes works by keystone artists such as David Ellsworth, Mark and Melvin Lindquist, and Rude Osolnik. More recent works by Hugh McKay, Mark Sfirri and Michelle Holzapfel show the movement’s continual development and growing sophistication.
All 66 objects in the exhibition will be available in a slide show to be posted on the museum’s website. The Smithsonian has also commissioned a five minute documentary about the exhibition, including interviews with Bresler and a few of the artists represented in her collection. View the video here: www.youtube.com
The exhibition will travel to several museums in the United States beginning in 2012; information about confirmed venues will be available online at americanart.si.edu/exhibitions
“A Revolution in Wood: The Bresler Collection” opened Sept. 24, 2010 and runs through Jan. 30, 2011. Visit americanart.si.edu. for more information.