I was thinking, when carving these pieces, of the opposition between the passing, temporary form of this folded napkin, which will never fold quite the same way again, and the apparent permanence of the carved object. Of the time, the focus, the attention to the particular I expend on this otherwise passing state, and how that contrasts with the fleeing swipe of the virtual.
The Shakers believed in an everlasting afterlife that contrasts with the brief moment we spend on this earth. But they gave time, focus and attention to the things they made in this world.
Napkin 2, 2020.
1 x 12 x 5 inches
I inherited my father’s copy of Deming and Andrews’ Shaker Furniture when I was a kid and have been looking at those pictures ever since. The Shaker aesthetic as shown in these black and white images made a deep impression on me. My wonder expanded upon first visiting a Shaker site in person, the complexity of color married to form that was only suggested in those photographs. Much of my practice has been one of distillation, searching for the essential in form and color, as with Oculus, my work presented here.
0.25" x 11" x 8.5"
This work is inspired by hand work, tool use, tools, and tool makers. Shakers were penultimate tool makers and users whose “hearts to God, hands to work” ethic speaks to me in the present day where digital tools and AI are increasingly prevalent, robbing the worker of the satisfaction of doing good work with a good tool.
These tools conflate form and function, sculpture and tool to take a new look at what we have and what we have lost.
I am the seventh generation to live on the family farm established in 1782 by my fourth Great Grandfather, Hosea Birge. He was one of George Washington’s life guards from 1777-1780. He and later his sons and daughters built this farm from hard work, hewing hand cut oak and chestnut trees, pulling stumps, milling timber and later grains at Hartigan’s mills on the Stein Kill (now Stony Kill) Creek. The farm was self sufficient in every respect. Hard work, simplicity and gratitude were ingrained in the family. It was the time of the Shakers and indeed I grew up with durable shaker rocking chairs on the front porch, finials cut off, sometimes rockers removed, heavily painted from years of use. Now, the once robust farm has ceded most of its buildings to newer centuries.
In my earlier career I was a carpenter and then a builder. I designed what I built. I have always loved simple flat planes, narrow graceful camfers, organic curves seen in nature. This work, three pieces from a small clear pine board seemed elegant to me in a simple way.
I painted my image of an old tree in early spring, as I have witnessed for half a century in nearby woods.