Sol Desharnais, Herman deVries, Karen Hare, Takashi Iwasaki, Keith Oliver, and Seth Woodyard
Words: Dunja Kovacevic / Photos: Janine Kropla
We’re discussing how much civilization owes to the manipulation of wood as we climb two rickety flights of stairs, that groan quietly in agreement. On this sweltering night in early August, a small crowd has gathered in the second floor gallery of a heritage warehouse for the Tree’n: Made of Tree exhibit.
That mankind’s earliest tools were purportedly used to work wood, first out of necessity, and now for aesthetic splendour, is fascinating. Around us people mill about, slick with sweat, drinking lemonade out of perspiring cups, sharing conspiratorial whispers.
A project of the Manitoba Art Council, Tree’n is co-curated by Winnipeg-based independent curator, Jenny Western, and her husband, Ben Borley, a woodworker. The exhibit showcases the work of six Manitoba artists: Sol Desharnais, Herman deVries, Karen Hare, Takashi Iwasaki, Keith Oliver, and Seth Woodyard.
According to Western, Tree’n is, “about acknowledging the traditions of woodcraft while also investigating its wholly contemporary identity.”
Searching to provide a “balanced view of woodcraft in Manitoba,” the natural materials on display are a cohesive, but varied testament to how the traditional art of woodworking has been transformed and made contemporary by the tools and processes of the modern age.
Conventional kitchen utensils are elevated with the addition of inlaid geometric wood patterns in the homemade cutting boards created by Keith Oliver. These are presented alongside custom furniture designs, all of which feature clean, fluid lines in stunning Cherry cut veneer and solids.
The vessels of Herman deVries resonate with generational history. Urns are fashioned from the Manitoba maple of his family homestead, planted by his parents in the 1920s. The ivory pallor of bleached maple is starkly contrasted by natural red currents running through the wood, and finished with a delicately patterned vintage porcelain lid. The artist was present, handling turned goblets with enthusiasm, encouraging others to feel the warmth of the wood, to seek their own connection in his materials.
In the far corner, we find the work of Takashi Iwasaki - Japanese-Canadian visual artist wunderkind - delving into yet another medium with signature whimsy. A series of intricate sculptures blend the natural world with more fantastical realms. A mounted set of antlers sprout wooden knobs in the place of points, conjuring up some chimerical creature particular to his imagination.
This well-crafted exhibit is a far cry from the folksy tradition of crude whittling that woodworking often calls to mind. Instead, this grouping of artists employs the sophisticated tools and techniques of the technological age to, as Western says, “push the material as far as they can, for pragmatic and expressive results.”
And we, pooling in the heat, seem insubstantial next to the solidity, the lasting sheen of gleaming wood.
The exhibit runs at Ace Art Inc., 2nd floor, 290 McDermot Avenue, until Saturday, Aug. 30. An artist roundtable will be held on Thursday, Aug. 28, at 7 p.m. at which time a full-colour catalogue will be available, featuring an essay from the curators.