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The Renwick Gallery Explores Wood Turning, One of America's Most Popular Crafts

Contact: Smithsonian American Art Museum's Public Affairs Office .AmericanArtinfo[at]
American Art's Web site:
Recorded information: (202) 633-8998

The Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian American Art Museum celebrates the variety and beauty of wood turning, one of the most popular craft art techniques today, in "Wood Turning since 1930." On view from March 15 through July 14, the exhibition traces the evolution of the craft from a functional hobby in the 1930s through the experimentation of the craft revival during World War II to the sophisticated art form exhibited today.

"This exhibition traces the progression of a 70-year tradition that resonates with all Americans," said Elizabeth Broun, the museum's Margaret and Terry Stent Director.

"Wood turning is a fascinating movement because it is rich with a long history and great variety," said Kenneth Trapp, curator-in-charge of the Renwick Gallery. "The 130 objects in this exhibition demonstrate how this simple hobby has grown to encompass both the functional and the unconventional, including expressive qualities such as color and sculptural forms."

In the exhibition, "Compote" (about 1940s) by Carl Huskey represents the earliest trend in wood turning, one that was practiced in high school shop classes, factories and by hobbyists. Constructed of three separately turned parts, the simple and sleek conventional form is indicative of the early tradition.

Studio turning began in the late 1930s with James Prestini and Bob Stocksdale who began creating more stylistic pieces. Turned objects such as Prestini's "Salad Set" (1939) encouraged later wood turners to abandon the traditional form in favor of experimentation. Prestini's functional tableware is designed to appear as sculpture with seven small, identical bowls that fit perfectly alongside one another. He continues to employ a simple shape, but uses a new scraping technique and lacquer for a thinner and smoother surface.

Rude Osolnik takes Prestini's experimentation a step further. In his own "Salad Set" (about 1950) Osolnik deviates from Prestini's precise approach, instead turning his set of rosewood bowls to have asymmetrical, individualistic shapes.

Since the 1950s, wood turners have continued to deviate from conventional woodworking. Giles Gilson does so by incorporating color in "Sunset" (1987), applying bright orange and yellow enamel paint to represent a southwestern sunset. The striped pattern on the surface suggests southwestern pottery or striping on cars.

Michael Hosaluk is one of the first wood turners to incorporate paint, mixed media and found objects into his work. In "Tribal Gathering" (1991) he creates a free-standing sculptural form created from linen thread, paint and beads that makes reference to aboriginal ritual objects.


Craig Nutt's "Radish Salad Bowl" (1998) is a playful, witty sculpture that at the same time acts as functional serving ware. It is a salad bowl on a stand with oversized yellow peppers as legs, bright red radishes as salad bowls and radish leaves as tossers. In this work Nutt creates rough shapes with the lathe and later shapes his forms by hand.

This exhibition has been organized by the Wood Turning Center, Philadelphia, and the Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, Connecticut. The exhibition, publication, and symposium are made possible by grants and support from: The Barra Foundation, Inc.; Center for the Study of American Art and Material Culture at Yale; Chipstone Foundation; Robyn and John Horn; The McNeil Fund for Graduate Study at Yale; Jane and Arthur Mason; National Endowment for the Arts; Ruth and David Waterbury; Windgate Charitable Foundation; The Wornick Family Foundation, Inc.

The exhibition's presentation at the Renwick Gallery is supported in part by Robyn and John Horn, the Bresler Family Foundation, and the James Renwick Alliance.

A six-minute video titled "The Art of Craft: Wood" features wood turner Stoney Lamar and will play continuously in the exhibition galleries. In 2001 it won first prize in the "Films and Videos About Art" category at the American Association of Museum's MUSE Awards and a World Medal at the New York Festivals. The Renwick Gallery co-produced the video with Video Art Productions as part of a series of five focusing on craft mediums celebrated in the permanent collection. A free illustrated brochure, made possible by the Bresler Family Foundation, will be available in the exhibition.

Renwick Public Programs

Lathe Demonstrations 12–3 p.m.
Watch artists demonstrate the use of a lathe, the tool on which wood is turned, in the exhibition galleries. Activities will occur every Wednesday and Sunday from March 15 to July 14, except March 31, May 26, July 7 and 14.
Exhibition Gallery


Friday, March 15 "Meet the Artists" Gallery Talk 2 p.m.
Artists featured in the exhibition "Wood Turning since 1930" discuss their work and the exhibition's themes.

Saturday, March 16 "Women in Woodworking" Symposium 10 a.m.–1 p.m.
"Wood Turning since 1930" artists Virginia Dotson, Michelle Holzapfel, Merryll Saylan and Betty Scarpino talk about their artistic development and experiences. (Sponsored by the James Renwick Alliance.)
Grand Salon

Sunday, April 7 "Distinguished Craft Artist Series" Lecture 3 p.m.
"Wood Turning since 1930" artist Stoney Lamar presents a slide-illustrated lecture about his work. (Sponsored by the James Renwick Alliance.)
Grand Salon

Sunday, April 14 "Family Day" Concert, Demonstration and Hands-on Workshop 1–4 p.m.
Hear a concert by the Mill Run Dulcimer Band and find out how dulcimers are made. Storytelling, demonstrations and a hands-on workshop celebrate the exhibition "Wood Turning since 1930." (Supported by the Windgate Charitable Foundation.)
Grand Salon

Friday, May 3, 10, 17 and 24 "As the Wood Turns" Improvisational Skit 12:30 p.m.
Join acclaimed improvisational group Now This for a lunchtime laugh as they perform a wood-inspired soap opera.
Exhibition Gallery

Sunday, May 19 "Distinguished Craft Artist Lecture" 3 p.m.
"Wood Turning since 1930" artist Mark Sfirri discusses his work. (Supported by the James Renwick Alliance.)
Grand Salon

For more information about a variety of other programs scheduled in conjunction with this exhibition, including the Thursday at 1 p.m. gallery talk series "Take a Break at the Renwick," call (202) 633-8070 or visit the museum's Web site at

The Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian American Art Museum is dedicated to exhibiting American crafts from the 19th to the 21st century. The Renwick is located on Pennsylvania Avenue at 17th Street N.W., near the Farragut North (Red line) and Farragut West (Blue and Orange lines) Metrorail stations. Museum hours are from .10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. daily. Admission is free. Public information: (202) 357-2700; (202) 357-1729 (TTY); (202) 633-9126 (Spanish). Recorded information: (202) 633-8998.