Friday, February 22, 2013

Jon Brooks' Open House

Last summer Jon Brooks held an open house for his home and studio so, being a big fan of his work, I made sure to schedule a trip. Though it has been over 30 years since I've read any of the hobbit books, and I haven't seen any of the movies, approaching Jon's home made me feel like I was entering Middle-earth, probably because the structure seems so mythical. It is a timeless design that can't be assigned to a particular architectural style. It seems to be more influenced by the forest that surrounds it more than any particular person or age. To me, it looks as if a giant mushroom sprouting out a forest floor.
Jon Brooks' Home
Here is a close-up of one of the chimneys, an irregularly-shaped polyp-like structure encrusted with ceramic shards.
Jon Brooks' Chimney (close-up)
These entrance stairs into Jon's home are fantastic and fantastically impractical. As if you are entering a tree house, you need to be sure footed to get to the "first" floor. It is so not ADA as to be laughable. His home makes a statement the minute you enter it, "live for the moment, future be damned," because, clearly, Jon hasn't built his home with worries about what he'll do later in life when his footing isn't so steady. Note the face carved into the floor joist -- not only is every part of this house hand-made, extra care has obviously been taken to turn every piece of construction into a work of art.
Entrance Stairs
Here is a downward view of the entrance. That first step, from the threshold to the stairs, is particularly precarious/funny -- but at least there is a hand rail.
Entrance Stairs (looking down)
Here is a view through the living room toward the top of the entrance stairs. I love the "stairs" going to the second level loft (that thin bone-line structure beyond the couch). Note, there is no hand rail, but at least there is a sculptural banister to keep guests from falling out of bed into the living room. Also note that the wall studs curve into ceiling joists. 
Living Room and Loft
Here is a view of the dining room. I have a good idea who designed and build the chairs and table (I've seen similar things in museums). Also note the spot where the two levels meet, this might be the only location in the house having a right angle .
Dining Room
One of Jon's many dog sculptures (titled Marcel). To emphasis the other-worldliness of Jon's work, this one has five legs. And to put an exclamation point on his impracticality, note that none of us living in this dimension would be able to "use" his chair (titled Apparition) -- the piece seems to be welcoming all beings into the home, regardless of their level of physicality (just because you can't been seen doesn't mean you don't need a seat).
Marcel (dog) with Apparition (chair)
Another wonderful canine playfully polka dotted.
Diminutive Canine Sculpture (unknown title)
Leaving Jon's home and heading to his studio one passes these dancing feminine-form spirals. They are unfinished and unprotected from the elements, but because of their shiny gray patina, I'm assuming they are made with white cedar. As such, they should maintain their timeless beauty for many years to come.
Spiral Scupltures (unknown title)
Here is a close-up. I love how they spring from the earth and appear to be natural growths in spite of the human intervention that was involved with their creation. Simple, elegant,  and skillfully made.
Jon's original studio tragically burnt down a couple of years ago due to an ice storm that broke a electric line running to the building. I believe the design was similar to his home, and having now seen that, I have a greater understanding of how much of a lose his studio was. I'm sure it was a very special place. Fortunately, he has been able to rebuild, and below is an image of the three buildings that now make up his studio.
Jon Brooks' Studio (circa 2012)
Here is an image of Jon, talking to visitors, in his primary studio space. For all the woodworkers of the world that lament the size, quality, or quantity of their equipment please note Jon's band saw, which most makers would consider less-than-professional grade. I also noted that I didn't see a table saw. His studio is a great example of how, with a little imagination, an artist can create museum quality work without top of the line equipment.
Below, Jon is talking with visitors about his then recently completed Ball Chair. He demonstrated how a dowel fits into the hole, I believe to help move it around. I like its very playful design, the natural form, and its simple, unassuming, presence.
Here is a commission Jon was working on at the time. I believe it was to be called Out Of The Closet and is to be used as a beautiful place for the client to hang cloths (so much more attractive and original than a boring closet).
Out Of The Closet (in progress)
And, finally, this is another piece in progress. In seeing his unpainted sculptures, I found it interesting to note how he pieces them together in a way that makes multiple branches look like a single form.
Work in Progress (unknown title)
I'm not sure how often Jon opens his home and studio, or whether he will do it again, but I highly recommend "Liking" his Facebook page in order to get announcements about future events. His home is a large scale museum quality work of art, and getting a chance to see so many of his finished pieces, in their natural habitat, is a wonderful experience -- so much more informative than seeing the work in a museum; and getting a chance to talk with Jon and see pieces under construction is a huge bonus as well.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Brian Bill Memorial Commission

I was recently asked to create a memorial sculpture for Brian Bill, a Navy Seal who was killed in Afghanistan on August 6, 2011. He was a Norwich University graduate and, to celebrate his life, the school organized a memorial race (the Brian Bill Memorial Challenge) that was held on February 16. As part of the event, the organizers wanted to present Brian's family with a sculpture that included a small Navy anchor. Below are a couple of images of what I came up with.
Brian Bill Memorial Sculpture
navy anchor, quilted maple, butternut
(french polish shellac finish)
approx. 20" x 35" x 9"
I was impressed with how beautiful the anchor is. I don't know its age or history but the officer I worked with in designing the piece, Captain David Castro, said it was a functioning anchor for a small boat and that he had it cleaned up for this project. I find it somehow reassuring that our military cared so much about the aesthetics of the object.
Brian Bill Memorial Sculpture (second view)
Below is an image of Captain Castro presenting the piece to Brian's stepfather, Michael Parry. David did a nice job of adding Brian's name in front of the anchor and the dog tags of participants along the side. Given the importance of piece, and the emotional impact for the family, I was nervous about their reaction but, thankfully, I've been told that "the family loved it" so I am relieved. 
Memorial Presentation