Turning Wood into Art: The Jane and Arthur Mason Collection

By Suzanne Ramljak; Michael W. Monroe et al. | Go to book overview
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The First Year

Arthur K. Mason

The first twelve months of collecting turned wood were the most memorable period in our collecting adventure. Jane and I became excited about the craft as soon as we saw our first exhibit at the Renwick Gallery, "The Art of Turned-Wood Bowls" from the Edward Jacobson collection. My father had been a forester, a graduate of Yale Forestry School in 1911, and he instilled in me a great love for the tree and the forest. We bought our first piece in June of 1986 at a craft shop in the hills of West Virginia, one week after our visit to the Renwick Gallery. Within a year, we had assembled a collection of more than one hundred pieces. It was not my fault that the number was so low. I never met a bowl I did not like. Fortunately, Jane had, and through her influence the collection has achieved the level of quality that distinguishes it today.

When we began this journey in 1986, turned wood had few collectors--Irving Lipton, Sam Rosenfeld, Nathan Ansell, and Ron Wornick were among them. More than a decade later, the field is burgeoning with new enthusiasts.

At the outset, we decided that if we were to become collectors it would be better if we learned more about wood turning. So we looked in the catalogue of the Jacobson show and searched for an artist whose work we liked and who lived nearby. We settled on David Ellsworth from Quakertown, Pennsylvania. Having more nerve than good manners we found his number, called him up, and invited ourselves to spend the weekend with him and his wife to learn about wood turning. Finding David and Wendy's home in the woods is an adventure in itself, and I think God has decided that not everyone is entitled to know where they live. We stayed down the road and spent the weekend talking about wood turning and wood turners and everything else in life. In the course of the stay, Jane noticed an unopened computer box in the corner, and David explained that he had not learned how to use it. He got a computer lesson out of the deal, and we acquired two pieces; a third--the "football" of redwood lace burl--was still on the lathe. Most important, we better understood what to look for in collecting turned-wood bowls. It was a good place to start.

David is one of the leading theoreticians in the field and one of the most innovative. As a teacher, lecturer, and exhibitor, he is constantly exploring new ways to make the wood express itself through the lathe. We learned how wood and form work together in harmony, especially in his work. Picking up each of his amazingly lightweight bowls, we realized that, as a former ceramist, he had translated the discipline of making the thin walls of a clay bowl into his wood turning. Revered by all in the field for his insight and skill, David can turn a piece of wood that barely holds together. (See, for example, plate 11.) Though we have donated four of his pieces to major museums, we still have more than sixty pieces of his work.

Our next memorable experience came in December 1986 when we visited Atlanta and, with David's introduction, met Ed Moulthrop, already an established giant in this infant art form. In the Signature Gallery, which represented Moulthrop in Atlanta, I inquired about other turners. The proprietor, in her best Georgia drawl, said, "This is Maawwwlthrop country," and added she knew nothing about other turners, with one exception--Ed's son Phil. Ed and his wife, Mae, are a wonderful courtly couple who showed us all over their stunning rambling home, which serves as salon, gallery, and studio with an outside woodpile. There we saw

David Ellsworth. Untitled Vessel. 1987. (see plate 12)

-11-

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