Wednesday, September 7, 2011


Hot on the heels of its excellent Big Creek Pottery retrospective exhibit last spring, the Santa Cruz Museum of Art and History continues its commitment to local art and artisans with its current show, Studio Made: Santa Cruz Woodworkers. The show is already into its second month, but I just caught up with it at First Friday last week, and what exciting work it is. If you just love woodwork, that most soulful medium, or if you're a fan of expert hand crafting in general, you need to run out and see this show, like, now.

10 members of the SC Woodworkers collective are featured in the exhibit. You may have noticed some of their pieces decorating the storefront windows of the cavernous Rittenhouse Building downtown, but there's nothing like seeing this work up close, brightly lit, and in detail, to appreciate all the nuances.

Work ranges from massive cabinetry and media centers in vibrant, contrasting wood grains by Om Anand, to an absolutely amazing collection of teeny tiny vessels of wood, palm nuts, and seed pods by Joshua Salesin. (Turned on antique lathes, Salesin's incredibly intricate and diverse pieces, ranging from fingernail-size to about and inch or two high, may be the most breathtaking objects in the show.)

In between, feast your eyes on the dashing, organic lines of Roger Heitzman's chairs, the glorious unfolding wood burl sculptures of Gary Stevens (above), and the lovely inlay work of Matthew Werner, on a variety of pieces.

I was especially knocked out by this three-legged corner jewelry cabinet by Michael Singer. It's a deceptively simple, even demure piece, until you open the doors and discover the layers upon layers of tiered, swing-out drawers and irresistible cubbyholes within. Functional and gorgeous; I loved it!

Singer's glass-topped Fandance Coffee Table is pretty impressive too, with its sweeping, fan-shaped bamboo base.

I'm also a huge fan of Ronald Cook, whose lovely, hand-crafted replications of antique instruments like dulcimers and rebecs (decorated with his signature tiny carved faces) have been thrilling Santa Cruzans for years. An assortment of these are on view at the MAH show, but so are some completely unexpected delights. Like this hand-carved chess set (look at the character in all those faces!), along with the chessboard, the formidable gaming table on which it sets, a pair of medieval-style trestle stools, and the wooden chandelier that hangs down over the entire ensemble!

And these are just a few highlights of a fascinating and inspiring exhibit. (While you're there, don't miss the companion exhibit, Furniture Design, up on the third floor. I liked the strong, rakishly asymmetrical Black Mamba chairs by Fred Hunnicut, and John Baer's ingenious Jet Cone cocktail table and wine bucket made of found metal objects.)

Also, big kudos to Nina Simon for continuing to open the MAH not only to local artists, but the community as well (especially kids). The interactive play stations she's set up throughout the museum are an interesting way to conquer visitors' fear of art and get them to engage with and enjoy the exhibits.

(The Santa Cruz Woodworkers show is up at the MAH through Novembr 13.)

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