We were crawling along Mass. Ave. at such a slow pace from Cambridge to Boston’s SoWa Arts District on Harrison Ave. in the South End that I thought my wife, plus myself, driving, would surely disappear in frustration.
Then, there we were, sitting in an audience at the promised roundtable discussion between wood sculptors Donna Dodson and Alison Croney Moses, moderated by Dr. Beth McLaughlin, artistic director and chief curator of the Fuller Craft Museum in Brockton, Massachusetts — an agile moderator, quick to highlight a revealing word or phrase of two mature artists/crafters at the top of their games.
And what were their games?
Well, as befits talent strenuously, lovingly nurtured with education, mentors and self-discipline not to mention that critical ingredient of all work in the arts and crafts, joy, Dodson’s sculptures evidenced both shining exteriors, first-hand, as well as interiors promising an invaluable second look with further scrutiny, deeper reflection.
Like those iconic statues erected on Easter Island facing the Pacific Ocean with the stern resolve of clan gods, pronounced ‘Don’t mess with us!’ attitudes, Dodson’s statuesque female goddesses can seem intimidating. In fact, they are intimidating in their powerful self-possession, raw-hewn presence.
Every time this viewer introduces himself to Dodson’s various personalities, it takes several turns around their bodies, and several sharp glances over his shoulder, to catch the movements of emotions which pass as substantially as white clouds over a rolling green landscape, to belie their seeming impassivity with a dialogue between two open minds.
The conversation that preceded our walk around the gallery to meet and engage with its silent, patient inhabitants revealed that Dodson’s younger self often climbed into and perched on the branches of neighborhood trees to feel the wind moving through branches as well her budding artistic ambitions.
In adult life, Dodson studied animation to produce films of morphing forms. So, influenced by this information, I looked resolutely beyond the stasis of full-frontal views to find, behind, beyond, a convoluted tail lying so close to its owner’s body, yet animated with a desire to flicker out into the viewer’s space — an innovation to romp? Maybe.
Dutifully, I sipped, nibbled, explored everywhere viewers can go in an exhibition of such rich directions, vistas opening from everywhere to anywhere curiosity leads, and blessedly, so unlike the serried rows of traffic that embedded our arrival as firmly as insects in amber.
Soon, the more artistical experiences the better, we were following each other’s footsteps from the Boston Sculptors Gallery to the Abigail Ogilvy Gallery just around the corner to see a fellow maker’s work that we’d never seen before.
From Dodson’s stalwart presences on solid footing crafted from whole tree trunks at the Boston Sculptors Gallery, we arrived to a wholly different world — yet not.
Thin wooden veneers dangled from almost invisible filament fishing lines attached to the Abigail Ogilvy Gallery ceiling, a coruscation of interiors and exteriors joined by fibers transformed from pure utility to purely spirit. We wandered between with the license of untethered beings, mesmerized by the “Alison Croney Moses: The Habits of Reframing” exhibition.
After we had a chance to explore the work, Moses eloquently described her wood craft, not skipping the travail of working as a woman and a wife with a family in the chancy business of becoming one’s inmost self within the demanding constraints of crafting wood.
This author opined that she does furniture as well as these tree spirits. Different tools for different spirits.
We had come so far so fast as we turned from the crowded highways, the choked avenues, to the fertile byways of SoWa that we almost forgave the traffic — which, like inspiration, had vanished on our return home, almost completely, as if it had never been.
Twice tasted in one evening, two women sculptors navigating their own histories as well as the histories of their sisters, and, finally, in our belatedly as well as unevenly enlightened 21st century, art history itself.
But though her present exhibit in Boston Sculptors Gallery ends this Sunday, October 1, Dodson, a member of this cooperative gallery, will return with new sculptures in the same vein, but always so different they themselves possess wondering, wandering, albeit sure-footed ways we viewers will only guess.
Dodson will soon be showing her life-sized female chess spirits she sculpted out of the tree trunks at The World Chess Hall of Fame in St. Louis, pieces that she said her Maynard, Massachusetts neighbors can’t resist rolling to her studio.
The work of Alison Croney Moses can be found in the collections of Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts and the renowned Renwick Gallery of Craft in Washington, D.C. While her artistical wings are widespread, her roots as community activist and educator in Boston are deep, she will definitely return to dialogue with sister women woodworkers like Dodson in the future.
Meanwhile, her gracious sculptures float, flow on from the ceiling of her current gallery exhibition with such vibrancy’s if Moses’ sure touch just left them.
We too will return to see more of the same, touched differently, sculpted from living wood by women.
(“Donna Dodson: Sheroes” continues through October 1 at Boston Sculptors Gallery, 486 Harrison Ave., Boston, Massachusetts. “Alison Croney Moses: The Habits of Reframing” runs through October 22 at Abigail Ogilvy Gallery, 450 Harrison Ave. #29, Boston, Massachusetts.)