January 3, 2018

“A Passion for Wood” Exhibit at HAM

“3 LINE ASCENDING #5”: This turned wood piece is part of “David Ellsworth: A Passion for Wood,” an exhibition running January 14 through April 22 at the Hunterdon Art Museum in Clinton. An opening reception will be held on Sunday, January 14 from 2 to 4 p.m.

In a career spanning four decades, David Ellsworth has become one of the premier designers of turned wooden vessels, deeply influencing contemporary craft and numerous artists.

This month, the Hunterdon Art Museum (HAM) will spotlight his work in “David Ellsworth: A Passion for Wood,” an exhibition which focuses on the woodturner’s technical and aesthetic development through the years, noted Ingrid Renard, who is curating the exhibition with Hildreth York.

The exhibition opens Sunday, January 14 with a reception from 2 to 4 p.m. Prior to it, David and Wendy Ellsworth (who has a solo exhibition devoted to her bead work at the Museum) will lecture and participate in discussion session at 1 p.m. Everyone is welcome, and no advanced registration is required.

During the mid-1970s, David Ellsworth designed a series of bent turning tools and the methods necessary to create the hollow vessels with tiny openings and coin-thin walls for which he is known worldwide. Early on, Ellsworth was creating wooden bowls but suddenly started creeping in to reduce the size of the opening. When he realized he couldn’t reach inside the work with the implements he had, Ellsworth decided to heat and bend steel to create tools that would enable him to hollow out the insides of solid wood blocks as they spun on a lathe.

One early inspiration to Ellsworth was the Hopi-Tewa pottery maker Nampeyo (1859-1942), who created dynamic shaped pots. “My primary influences come from the energy and beauty of Native American ceramics, the architecture of the American Southwest with its textures, tones, and monumentality, and the natural beauty of the material of wood — what I refer to as the most perfectly imperfect material to work with,” he noted in a recent talk.

Ellsworth noted that other pieces — particularly in their form, their tiny openings and his willingness to “let the material do what it does best” — were influenced by ceramist Toshiko Takaezu, who donated her time and energies to the Hunterdon Art Museum for more than five decades.

In the mid-1980s, Ellsworth began working with wooden spheres as his primary design element. Ellsworth notes that the sphere is the most universal form and finds it challenging to modify and distinguish such spheres because they are “too perfect.”

Ellsworth is a founding member of the American Association of Woodturners, of which he was president from 1986-1991, and its first Honorary Lifetime Member. He has written numerous articles on subjects related to craft and woodturning and has operated the Ellsworth School of Woodturning at his home and studio in Buck’s County, Pennsylvania since 1990.

His works have been included in the permanent collections of 36 museums, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. He has taught workshops throughout the world and has received fellowship grants from the National Endowment of Arts, the Pennsylvania Council for the Arts, and the PEW Foundation.

The Hunterdon Art Museum is at 7 Lower Center Street in Clinton. Hours are Tuesday through Sunday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. and suggested admission is $5.

For more information, call (908) 735-8415 or visit the website at www.hunterdonartmuseum.org.