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Show Gives Polish to Art of Woodworking

The smell of sawdust filled the air and ribbons of shaved wood flew from a lathe at the Renwick Gallerys most recent exhibit opening.

Eliot Feldman, a member of the Montgomery County Woodturners, demonstrated wood turning, the process in which hunks of lumber slowly become elegant works of art, like the pieces presented in A Revolution in Wood: The Bresler Collection.

The 66 works of turned and carved wood in the exhibit were donated to the Renwick by collectors Fleur and Charles Bresler. Fleur Bresler has been collecting this kind of wood art since the late 1980s. She said she first became interested in the art form in 1986, when she found herself taking shelter from a rainy day at the Renwick.

If there hadnt been guards upstairs, I would have taken the tops off of the cases and started handling the pieces, she said.

From that moment, Bresler said her collection started slowly and scientifically, one or two pieces per year. If she bought a short and wide work, her next purchase would be a tall, skinny one.

Despite the abundance of material for this art form, the style has only existed for about 50 years, exhibit curator Nicholas Bell said.

Although lathes have been used for thousands of years, the idea of using them to create art only came about after uniform manufacturing became the norm, he said. Once items like furniture legs and banisters no longer needed to be made by hand, wood turning opened up new creativity.

Interest in wood turning exploded during the 1970s and became the quintessential grass-roots movement in art, Bell said.

The works presented in the exhibit range from the functional to the sculptural. Simple but skillfully created bowls and vases fill the room alongside ornate and whimsical works.

Mark Sfirris Rejects from the Bat Factory shows a sense of humor distinctive from any other work in the exhibit. The five baseball bats hanging from a rack are polished to perfection, but they wouldnt do much good in a major league game. One has a wiggle of wood right in the middle, while two others feature bulging deformities and odd lengths.

Some pieces, such as Melvin Lindquists Vase with Duckbill Handle, incorporate the original shape of the wood into the artwork. Rather than remove the knotty root that forms the handle, Lindquist incorporated it into the vase, giving the work an organic form.

Other works seem to defy the very material theyre made of with intricate or elegant designs. If not for the visible wood grain, it would be easy to mistake the carefully smoothed and polished pieces for stone.

Its this close attention to the material that makes wood turning unique. Wood artists often covet trees or types of wood, but they are also careful not to damage the natural environment in their search for material, Bresler said.

I dont think I know a wood artist who isnt an environmentalist, she said.

Bresler wants the exhibit to create the same passion for wood turning in visitors to the Renwick that she has so long as they dont act on the desire she had to touch the pieces.

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