ROCKING: Woodwork show at Cox Center.
Wood works at the Cox Center
Jan. 15-Feb. 26
Showcase Arkansas Gallery
Cox Creative Center, 2nd Floor
120 Commerce St.
There is something intoxicating about well-worked wood. Not the two-by-fours they sell to the weekend warriors out at Homely Depot, but the wood people cherish. Warm cherry; dark, eddying walnut; riotous bird’s-eye maple. Looking at wood like that, worked by hand, glowing under a sheen of finish, you realize why every once in awhile, some sawmill operator will open up a tree and find what he swears is the figure of the Virgin Mary.
For those not of the faith, part of the gospel is on display at the Cox Creative Center, next door to the Main Library downtown. From now until Feb. 26, the Showcase Arkansas Gallery will play host to “Contemporary Objects in Wood,” a show featuring objects created by students and faculty of the Arkansas Arts Center Museum School’s woodworking classes. For serious woodworkers — and even casual lovers of the fine grain — it’s a great way to kill an hour or two.
Some of the most delightful objects in the show are the smallest: the carefully turned magic wands (with corresponding names drawn from the “Harry Potter” series) of Jill Currans. The exotic wood pinhole camera by Museum School instructor Earl Magnuson. The inlaid mahogany cinerary box by Walter E. Mays.
While all these small things are beautiful, the real power of the show is in its furniture and objets d’art. From the simple to the intricate, the items on display all bear the marks of careful thought and planning. And oh, the beautiful wood. Mike Jones uses walnut to make a rocker so fluid and sinuous that it might have grown that way in some enchanted forest. As elegant, and even more touching to the heart, is the cradle by Martin Carey. Made of cherry and walnut with bird’s-eye maple slats, it stands up to minute inspection, inviting the viewer to both marvel at the beauty of it, and to speculate on the forces that led the maker to work so finely and with such care to create a love letter in wood. Equally as beautiful is John Althoff’s “Oriental Pair,” an abstract duet of shapes in red, black and natural wood.
If I had to choose a favorite, it would be the black cherry, ebony and black granite sofa table by Walter E. Mays. Riffing on the designs of Gustave Stickley and Frank Lloyd Wright, the narrow table features exposed mortise and tenon construction, gently splayed legs, and four rectangles of polished black granite floating in the creamy rust of the cherry top. A subtle wonder of proportion, it was the piece that drew me through the door and into the exhibit. If it was for sale, I might be out pawning my boots to acquire it.
Though some of the smaller works in the show are for sale, most aren’t. Many of the items, built as they were by beginning woodworkers — and some of them no doubt their first completed projects — probably couldn’t be had for love or money. Whatever the case (and my lust for Mays’ table aside) viewers would do well to keep appreciation, not acquisition, as their watchword. After all, in our consumer culture, putting away the checkbook is really the only way to fully appreciate the handmade.