Only The Strong Survive
by James Foritano
With so many icons crowding into our national, if not global, consciousness, you have to wonder if wood, just wood, holds any longer those numinous qualities we hand out so profligately to tin-pot celebrities. The Druids worshiped wood in the form of living trees. And how many documents of iconic importance were penned under the regal branches of oaks and chestnut? Think of Boston’s own Liberty Tree, now just a bas-relief plaque on the edge of Chinatown, or Longfellow’s spreading chestnut boughs — crowded out by sprawl — under which the doughty village blacksmith labored with glistening brow and ropy muscles.
And yet, there are still some souls who roll up their sleeves and peel back layers of prejudice assigning wood, so unjustly, to the lumberyard of our consciousness. And where, you might ask, I hope with some curiosity, is this renaissance happening? In the feisty galleries of the Montserrat College of Art, nestled nicely beside the Beverly Town Common.
Just five contemporary artists exhibiting 10 pieces carry the flag for wood as a material fit for the artisan to work and the artist to envision. And they start, daringly, at the bottom of the woodpile, coaxing the divine from scrap, refuse, and despised hybrids while flaunting their lack of polish in order to educate our sight to wood’s inner nobility, and perhaps to curb the hubris of the maker with exacting discipline.
It’s hard to discern in this rowdy group who takes the bottommost starting point, but my favorite wood to overlook starts unequivocally with plywood — just the “wood” Harry Roseman embraces. Plywood springs to mind mostly for building purposes, such as strength, durability and arcane qualities like “resistance to creep,” a hardy material hardly fit to excite the aesthete to vapors of delight.