Craftsmen hone timber's potential

The postcard announcing "Out of the Woods," an exhibition opening Wednesday at the Lawrence Arts Center, begins to convey part of Rick Stein's purpose for organizing the show.

On the front are three photographs of works in the exhibit: a wooden box by Terry Evans, a freestanding wooden cabinet by Stein and a wooden rocking chair by Will Orvedal. None is shown entirely. Instead, only the very top of Evans' cylindrical lidded container is revealed, forcing the eye to focus on the hypnotizing lines of the wood grain and the finely carved decorative cap.

The upper left corner of Stein's cabinet highlights his use of unusually striated wood and stunning design elements on the doors. The top of Orvedal's rocker is cut off, emphasizing the dynamic curving lines of its back.

The card's design asks viewers to consider the pieces -- all functional in their own right -- as something more than boxes, cabinets and rockers.

It asks viewers to see them as art.

"Furniture making is an endeavor that should be acknowledged and respected like any art form," Stein says. "It isn't, very often, so I think when you have an opportunity to do that, there's no reason not to show it in the hopes that viewers acknowledge both its creative elements as well as its technical and crafting elements."

"It's cool stuff," he adds with a laugh.

Stein has assembled five other wood furniture makers as well as a wood turner, a box maker and a photographer whose subjects are often trees for the arts center show, which runs through Dec. 23 in the Ann Evans Gallery.

Stein, Orvedal and Marty Miller showed their wooden furniture in 2000 at the old arts center. The public received it well, Stein says, and, noting a shortage of three-dimensional art shows in Lawrence, he decided it was time for an encore -- this time with more artists/craftsmen to fill up the new arts center's much-larger gallery.


Wooden box by Terry Evans

In addition to Stein, Orvedal, Evans and Miller, furniture makers Don Gauthier, Tom Huang and Daryl Nickel; wood turner Gale Carter; and photographer Wally Emerson will display work in the exhibit. Sculpture, art furniture and paintings by Joelle Ford and Julian Harr will form a complementary exhibition in the adjoining small gallery.

Stein, who handcrafts small tables and freestanding cabinetry in his home studio, says arts and crafts design influences are clear in his work, but Asian aesthetics guide him as well. For instance, he often incorporates legs that are heavier at the bottom than the top, "the reverse of much Western design," he says.

Stein began woodworking about 10 years ago and has picked up his skills through self-teaching and a series of two-week design workshops at the Center for Furniture Craftsmanship in Rockland, Maine. He also has been influenced by fellow exhibitor Orvedal.

"I have enormous respect for his skills and what he does," Stein says. "I think he's the absolute best that exists, not just in Lawrence."

For his part, Stein simply enjoys working with wood and studying time-honored furniture designs and building techniques. He finds escape in the work.

"When I'm in the shop working on stuff, in order to keep all 10 of my fingers because it's dangerous things that I do, I have to be really fully present," he says. "The benefit for me is that if I'm in there working, I don't think about kids dying in Iraq or all the perils my kid growing up will face. It gets kind of bleak out there at times.

"It's a way to focus on something that I think has value in an effort to make something that can be beautiful in the environments we live in."


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