I'm embarrassed to admit that I'm the type who scrambles to knock on wood at the slightest hint of bad luck. Fortunately, there's almost always some nearby. Timber puts a roof over most of our heads, and wherever trees are plentiful people have turned to wood to craft the useful, ornamental and even ceremonial objects we carry through our daily lives.
For Tree'n ("made of tree," the way "wood'n" things are made of wood), curator Jenny Western and designer-craftsman Ben Borley pool their expertise to assemble a group of six Manitoba artists and craftspeople looking for new ways to shape the familiar material. Organized by the Manitoba Craft Council and hosted at Aceartinc., the exhibition showcases an impressive variety of "tree'n" wares, ranging from functional and decorative pieces to wooden works that defy categorization. Unifying the diverse collection of objects are their makers' skill, inventiveness and deep, self-evident understanding of the material.
The simple lines of Karen Hare's tableware -- long-handled spoons and honey-dippers, shallow dishes, and a set of minimalist spatulas ingeniously repurposed from ebony violin necks -- elegantly complement the unique character of the different woods she uses: the bubbling knots of bird's-eye maple, the rich tones and fine grain of cherry, elm and walnut. Her Treenware would no doubt be as captivating at the dinner table as it is laid out on a spotlit pedestal.
Likewise, Keith Oliver's Harlequin Cutting Boards are more than at home on the gallery wall: the rainbow-checkered patchworks of domestic and exotic woods playfully bring to mind the geometric compositions of painters like Piet Mondrian and the "crazy" abstractions favoured by the quilters at Gee's Bend, Alabama. Sol Desharnais demonstrates the versatility of simple forms, employing wooden hoops to provide structure and support for both trunk-like assemblages of salvaged timber and a collection of handbags.
Emerging artist Seth Woodyard continues to explore intersecting concerns of labour and spirituality in an installation of panel paintings. Mounted high on the wall and reachable by wooden ladders of varying height, they show Byzantine, semi-abstract interiors crowded with stacks of lumber and potted seedlings. Interested (and adventurous) viewers will need to ascend on a sort of pilgrimage if they want to see the curious icons up close.
Well-known and much admired for his lively, stylish works in media ranging from painting to embroidery, Takashi Iwasaki continues to develop his signature space-age brand of comic-book surrealism in a trio of odd, exquisite sculptures. Globs and tendrils of finely carved, inlaid and polished wood fuse with a set of salt and pepper shakers and a mounted pair of deer antlers, wriggling out like the fruiting bodies of some intergalactic fungus.
Instead of science fiction, the collection of lathe-turned vessels by Herman de Vries seem like relics from a fairy tale. Resting on a narrow shelf alongside spectacular lidded and pierced-work goblets, an egg-shaped rosewood box sits cradled by a menacing acacia thorn looking for all the world like something off of Briar Rose's nightstand. Porcelain Lidded Hollow Form is a simple wooden urn. The bleached maple's sheer web-like grain and rosy discolorations exactly mirror the translucent porcelain and floral motifs of lid, a piece of gilt-edged found china. It is one of most singularly perfect objects I've ever seen.
Tree'n closes next weekend following a free roundtable discussion with the artists and catalogue launch next Thursday, Aug. 28, at 7 p.m. I, um, wooden miss it if I were you. (I'm sorry).
Steven Leyden Cochrane is a Winnipeg-based artist, writer and educator.