Drought. Famine. Disease. Sun. Rain. All of these factors contribute in the creation of a life story. The interpretation of these factors is the real challenge for any person, including historians, anthropologists and even artists.
One artist in particular has chosen a medium, which is generally not considered when the idea of expressing a life story comes to mind. Third generation wood-turner Matt Moulthrop has taken up the mantle of telling stories in his own particular way, through trees.
The life of a tree is influenced by the world around it and growth rings tell the story. Within the first few years of life, a tree may experience severe drought or an overabundance of rain. Each of these events is recorded within the tree. Drought and disease, flooding and lack of sunlight, major weather events – all leave evidence behind in the form of ring spacing and coloration. Hidden in plain sight is the accurately recorded history of mankind all around us in the trees.
Matt Moulthrop has stepped in to interpret these stories through his art. The idea of giving trees a voice is an interesting and a new approach. With his selection of various trees found mainly in the Southeastern United States, Moulthrop tells the unique account of our region. His works of art are turned bowls in classical forms, leaving the simplicity and elegance of the piece to do the talking. Each turned object is a singular story of a location in our region.
Matt works with the wood, first by selecting the best pieces. Secondly, turning this piece on his lathe, he begins to unveil every growth ring, wormhole, and imperfection in the wood. The final step is capturing this story within a glass-like finish.
Learning this particular art form began with his grandfather, Ed Moulthrop, who came to the craft only after achieving a successful career as an architect. Discovering that woodturning could in fact enable him to care for his family, Ed worked in his shop full-time. He developed his own tools, crafting them from scrap metal and turned large-scale projects, the likes of which the woodturning world had never seen.
Ed’s son, Philip, learned the love of the art after he also had a successful career, as a lawyer. Philip turned full time as well, never staying with one form or style long, preferring to let each tree decide its own unique form. After much trial and error, Philip eventually created his Mosaic series. A body of work that is created with various wood pieces and a dark resin, turned in classical styles.
Matt, too, learned the art of woodturning after having a career. He learned with the help of this father and grandfather, contributing a dozen new tree species to the Moulthrop’s body of work, as well as, developing a system, which distributes and enhances the glass finish on each Moulthrop piece.
The stories that the Moulthrop family has revealed continue to grow as they receive commission pieces for beloved trees or through the immense pile of wood available in their back yard. Each tree that Matt and Philip work shows another snapshot of history and tells another story that reveals an unknown tale through the medium of wood.