Hello wood friends! We’re into week 3 and I still feel like I’ve just arrived, but we’ve had some great adventures and conversations so far, and soon Kailee Bosch will be joining us! I realize I have a zillion pictures to share with y’all about these first weeks, so I figured I’d post again to try and get caught up.
At the end of week 1 the group split up – Janice and I drove down to Maryland and DC to see a great maker space, visit with art collectors, and get a private tour of the new exhibition up at the Renwick. James and Chris both had things they needed to do locally and stayed behind. The DC trip has been a tradition of the residency, but it happened so close to the start that it was hard to plan for, especially for the local residents who haven’t already made plans to leave their lives behind for the summer. On Saturday morning, Janice, Alex Felix from the Center for Art in Wood and I all climbed into a minivan and headed south (Alex drove, thank goodness – she was great!).
Our first stop was in Baltimore at A Workshop of Our Own (WOO) where we met with Shalon Edwards and Morgan Ward who told us about the mission of WOO (a professional woodworking environment which cultivates and promotes the careers of women and gender non-conforming craftspeople in the woodworking field) and about their journey from the founding of the space by Sarah Marriage, through going fully virtual with their classes during the pandemic, and now starting up in-person classes again. I have served on the board of WOO and know first hand how important the space is, but it was great to see how it’s grown since I stepped away! As an educator I am always wondering how my students will find ways to make their work when they graduate – so many of them don’t feel welcome, comfortable, or safe in many shop spaces, and WOO is tackling that head on.
Sunday morning we got up and drove to visit Fleur Bresler in her beautiful art-filled home. Fleur has been collecting art for decades, and has a gorgeous collection of craft and art objects. She has a fantastic memory for each piece (there are hundreds of artworks in her home, people, this is no small feet) and a great sense of humor – she spent three hours telling us stories about the pieces she’s collected, and the artists she’s befriended along the way! We were awed, overwhelmed and totally thrilled. It’s one thing to see examples of these artists’ work in galleries, but Fleur insisted we pick them up, sit on them, and get a sense of how they feel as well as look. I can’t help but think that many of the pieces are happier that way – some objects just like being held.
Sunday afternoon we had free, and after a few hours at the National Museum of Natural History in DC we were thoroughly exhausted. I didn’t know my eyeballs could get that full.
Monday morning we rode the metro into DC to meet Mary Savig at the Renwick Gallery where she gave us an amazing tour of This Present Moment: Crafting a Better World, a newly opened exhibition celebrating the Renwick’s 50th anniversary and their recent acquisition campaign. I had seen the exhibition, because one of my pieces was acquired by the Renwick and I couldn’t resist a trip to DC from Madison WI to be at the opening, but I didn’t know the story behind the layout for the show, and it was wonderful to get the background. Spanning two floors, the exhibition looks at the work from two perspectives – the first floor’s theme is Home and the second floor’s theme is Time. Hearing how and why the curators put the various pieces in which space was enlightening, especially as someone who’s interaction with artwork usually ends at the front door of a gallery space. How do curators think about work and context? As a maker, I am simply of my time and home, I don’t think about how the work I make relates to those things or to the other makers living in the same moment because I don’t have to – those things will be part of the fabric of the piece whether I want them there or not. Anyway, it was a lovely shift of perspective on contemporary craft, and we were so grateful to Mary Savig for her time!
So, after Alex steered us to a great taco joint for lunch (dear friends, we needed tacos – you can’t look at that much artwork without eating at least two tacos to refuel; we’re strong, but not that strong), we piled back in the minivan and Alex drove us up Maryland to visit Jeff Bernstein and Judy Chernoff, who are also collectors with a home full of beautiful artworks. Where Fleur’s collection has expanded to include a lot of different materials and kinds of work, Jeff and Judy have focused on wood, with just a few forays into ceramics and beyond. Their home is bright and cheerful and packed with treasures. The minute they started talking to us it was clear that their collection is a part of who they are and how they see themselves in the world. When you ask about a piece they talk about both the piece and it’s maker as though they are close friends. I was struck again by the difference between their relationship with the objects and my relationship with the things I make – if I’m a parent to my works, hoping they grow up and go out into the world, then Jeff and Judy are more like zookeepers, tending to all the wonderful weird works they’ve gathered, making sure that the ones that play well together stay together, and keeping the ornary ones on shelves and tables with plenty of space around them. I asked them why they felt the need to spend so much energy, time, and money, collecting works and among all the wonderful answers Judy said, “…there’s something about coming home to it in all your various moods…” and I was struck by what it means to really live with a piece of art. We were so grateful to them for sharing both their home and a little bit of their lives with us. Heck, they sent us back out on the road to Philly with snacks – now that is love!! And if you want to see more of their collection, head over to the Renwick – Jeff and Judy generously donated 43 sculptural works to the Renwick’s collection that are now on display as part of This Present Moment. They are two of the most generous people I’ve met.
Speaking of grateful, a huge thank you to everyone who took care of us on this trip, to Alex for driving us, and to the Center for organizing it! PHEW, that was a lot. I promise a shorter post next time! Cheers all!