‘Western Woods’: Booth museum exhibit celebrates woodturning ’dynasty'

By MARIE NESMITH
Posted 8/9/20

Following in his forebearers’ footsteps, Matt Moulthrop continues to shape pieces of “incredible beauty” out of solid chunks of wood. Like his father and grandfather, the Marietta resident is …

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‘Western Woods’: Booth museum exhibit celebrates woodturning ’dynasty'

Posted
Following in his forebearers’ footsteps, Matt Moulthrop continues to shape pieces of “incredible beauty” out of solid chunks of wood. Like his father and grandfather, the Marietta resident is thrilled to extend the life of a tree through his artistic creations.
 
“I grew up around woodturning with both my father and grandfather being in the field,” said the 42-year-old. “As a teenager, I became more interested and focused on getting better and learning more about the nuances of it, while aspiring to add my contribution.
 
“I have ventured into sculptural forms, tables made from poison ivy vines and writing pens, which are new to my family's tradition. But the majority of my contributions have never been observed because they are largely behind the scenes with the development of new finishes, polishes and mechanical changes to equipment used in our creative process people never see.”
 
Matt’s woodturning talents are currently on display — along with those of his father and grandfather — at the Booth Western Art Museum. Titled “Edward, Philip and Matt Moulthrop: Western Woods,” the special exhibit highlights the works crafted by the three generations of the Moulthrop family through Oct. 4.
 
“A piece that I created for the show that I am particularly proud of is a rhythmic redwood sculpture that embodies a fusion Western appeal through its phoenix design in a native California tree,” Matt said.
 
The “Phoenix” work — in which swirling pieces of wood resemble flames of fire — was one of many he created for the exhibit using woods from the West.
 
“A sculptural form of mine takes roughly a year or more, which is three times longer to create than a traditional piece,” Matt said. “The ‘Phoenix’ sculpture in the show is nearly a completed vase form before I begin to cut into the form.
 
“Once I have pierced through the form, I am on my own as far as what my father and grandfather had taught me and the independent learning began on how to shape, sculpt and finish pieces where I had pierced through the form.”
 
“Edward, Philip and Matt Moulthrop: Western Woods” is the Booth’s first physical exhibit since reopening to the general public June 20. Pleased to see it come to fruition, Lisa Wheeler noted her curatorial staff at the Booth continued working on the exhibit from home, when the museum was temporarily closed from mid-March to early June.
 
“I think this is a great exhibition for celebrating the reopening of the Booth museum,” said Wheeler, director of curatorial services for the Booth. “The three-generation Moulthrop family represent a dynasty in the world of woodturning, elevating it to fine art.
 
“Visitors to the exhibit get to see 10 pieces from Edward, the patriarch of the family, as well as 21 new works by Philip and 15 new works by Matt. The new bowls are in a variety of sizes and made from beautiful Western woods, like California redwood, Texas mulberry, desert mesquite, ponderosa pine, Goodding willow and Western red cedar.”
 
As Wheeler noted, the exhibit also features the creations of Edward, who passed away in 2003. He is often referred to as “the father of woodturning” and is known for his large-scale works and innovations to the art of shaping wooden pieces with a lathe machine.
 
When referring to some of the exhibit’s fascinating components, Wheeler said, Edward “invented and created tools that enabled him to turn huge pieces on his lathe. Some were large enough for a person to stand in.
 
“We have a photograph of Ed standing in a large chalice that he made, and another photo of his grandson Matt inside one of Ed’s bowls when he was a child. The largest Edward Moulthrop bowl in the exhibit, made from American tulipwood, measures 25-by-36 inches and is on loan from the Joan N. Portman family trust.”
 
Like his son, Philip also is honored to be featured in an exhibit with his family members.
 
“I enjoy exhibiting my work alongside my father’s and my son’s very much,” said Philip. “Because my father taught me woodturning, and I like seeing how he made his pieces and I can see how I have made adaptations and changes to his methods to create my own personal styles.
 
“I have the same feelings when I look at my son, Matt’s, woodturning. He has taken the knowledge that he learned from my father and from me and has created his own unique styles. When someone looks at our pieces for the first time, they may think they all have the same appearance, but after looking at them it is apparent that each of us has his own unique style of turning. The exhibit being shown at the Booth Western Art Museum allows the patron to see each of our different styles but also the progression of the art through three generations.”
 
Philip embraced the opportunity in the early 1990s to work with his hands full-time. Now 72, the Marietta resident was an attorney before deciding to pursue his woodworking passion.
 
“The thing that I enjoy most when creating a bowl is the fact that I am uncovering the inner part of the tree,” he said. “In doing so, I am exposing for the first time the colors and grain that has been hidden inside the tree. There is a feeling of great satisfaction in having revealed the inner beauty in the tree, [an] appreciation of what nature can do.”
 
For Wheeler, the family aspect of the Moulthrop exhibit is especially significant.
 
“With the possible exception of Southern folk potters, it is unusual for three generations in a family today to pass down a fine craft from generation to generation,” she said. “All three men are inventors, with Edward, Philip and Matt each inventing new tools, equipment and finishes while honing their craft through the years.
 
“Another interesting fact is that they look for wood with flaws and imperfections, because those result in bowls with the most unique colors and patterns. Each generation of this family has elevated the craft of woodturning to fine-art status with each piece featuring balance, classical proportion, harmony and incredible beauty. Viewers find themselves in almost a meditative state while studying the patterns, colors and lines beneath the rich reflective surface of each piece.”
 
Situated at 501 Museum Drive, the Booth is known worldwide for its extensive collection of contemporary Western art. The 120,000-square-foot venue became an affiliate of the Smithsonian Institution in 2006.
 
The museum offers a variety of exhibit spaces, some of which include the Civil War gallery; Sculpture Court; a presidential gallery; the “Picturing America” photography gallery; and the interactive children’s gallery, Sagebrush Ranch.
 
“I have always been impressed with the Booth Western Art Museum both in the facilities and the programs they put on,” Philip said. “I felt that doing an exhibition at the Booth would be fun and that they would do a first-class job in the presentation.”
 
Along with showcasing Edward’s works, the exhibit also displays his descendants’ answer to a challenge delivered by the Booth museum to create pieces using woods hailing from the American West instead of the southeastern United States.
 
“It was a challenge to locate the woods and have them transported to us, however we were able to call on some people we knew and they found source for us,” Philip said. “When we create pieces from non-native trees, we find that the woods can differ greatly from what we find in Georgia.
 
“Some are very soft and some are extremely hard. Both qualities can make the turning process difficult.”
 
Due to COVID-19 concerns, the Booth museum has implemented various social distancing and sanitary measures, including requiring the public to purchase tickets online.
 
“I hope visitors will take away a deeper understanding of the process and the amount of work that goes into woodturning,” Wheeler said. “I believe they will come away with an appreciation of the rich history of the Moulthrop family and how important they are as renowned artists, not only in Georgia, but across the U.S. and globally.
 
“U.S. presidents have given their bowls as gifts to visiting dignitaries from around the world and President Jimmy Carter was a huge fan and friend of Ed and the family. Their work is in major museums and private collections across the globe.”
 
Echoing Wheeler’s comments, a quote from Carter is displayed on one of the exhibit’s walls — “The artistry of Ed Moulthrop has been inherited — and perhaps enhanced — by that of his son Philip and his grandson.”
 
Accompanying the exhibit, a video enhances museum visitors’ appreciation of the Moulthrops’ talents.
 
Among those interviewed in the presentation is Carter, who shares, “Some of the most beautiful turnings that’s made just came out of old stumps of, say, poplar and pine trees that most people that make fine furniture would never think about using. Poplar would only be used maybe in the back end of a drawer or the bottom of a drawer, for instance, and pine is ordinarily kind of derogated as an inferior structural product. But when it comes out of — off the lathe of one of the Moulthrop family members, it becomes a permanent thing of beauty and a treasure in itself.”
 
In addition to following the Booth on Facebook, further details about the museum’s exhibits can be obtained by visiting boothmuseum.org.