A PRESENCE IN WOOD
by Miriam Carpenter
Throughout my life I have sought the companionship of trees, and have developed an ever deepening reverence for them. Trees are intelligent, resilient, majestic, and adaptable. When a tree has reached the end of its life, the shadow of what once was presents another gift in the form of a satiny, warm, sensual material.
Each piece of wood has its own story—reflections of moments specific to place and time within the architecture of a species. Each tree has its own experience and characteristics uniquely formed by its geographical location, the effects of the seasons, wind, rain, and what grew beside it. The history of each year is physically recorded in each ring slowly reacting to external and internal stresses after it has died and been cut into lumber. Reading this story in the grain is just as exciting to me as transforming it into an artifact. The more time I spend with each piece of wood, the deeper my understanding grows. Respecting its capacity and understanding its potential, I can be more thoughtful in how I bring the piece to completion.
Everything that I create is an experiment. Whether the approach is multi-axis split turning, bending, or carving by hand, it is always an exploration of the material’s unique potential.
My current passion is fueled by an evolving series of delicately carved wooden feathers. Species with the most porous early wood, tight growth rings, and strong medullary rays provide the type of structure I have found to be most resilient. The dense medullary rays project radially through the rings, offering an ability to shape incredibly thin undulating forms that expose the delicate pores, while the tight rings offer a dramatic visual texture through varying densities.
My process is of making—of staying present in the moment, of focus and flexibility—and is an ongoing lesson in non-attachment. As I work, I allow myself to pour out love with such intensity that what I create becomes embodied with a life that is viscerally connected to me. I do not believe that handmade artifacts are simply objects or things; I believe they are imbued with heart and soul. Our energy passes through us and into what we are making. Bliss, anxieties—these things are reflected in what we produce. We exchange matter. When we create a baby, far along in its gestation, its DNA floods the mother’s body. When a baby is born, some of its DNA remains in the mother’s body forever. There is a constant exchange in whatever we create, and being mindful and deliberate about how we do what we do is of utmost importance to how we share our gifts and our lives with everyone and everything around us.
Living creatively shifts the way I move through the world and expands my perceptions. The inclination to create art sets us apart from other living things on this earth. It is an active universal language that creates ties, discovers compatibility, and allows us to realize connections. While creating ties, my hope is to evoke something in others that might broaden understanding and help perpetuate a passion to learn, nurture, respect, and explore.
Miriam Carpenter is an artist, researcher, and designer based in New Hope, Pennsylvania. After graduating from RISD in 2006, she designed furniture alongside Mira Nakashima for seven years. In 2014, she was awarded the Windgate ITE Residency sponsored by the Center for Art in Wood together with four wood artists from Japan, Canada, West Ghana, and the United States. The year following, she lived, worked, and studied with furniture makers, sculptors, scholars, and environmental stewards in Australia, Tasmania, and New Zealand. She is currently working as an independent artist while enjoying teaching across the country.
Author photo credit: Amber Johnston
Bliss, 2014, Turned and carved bleached Ash. Finished with whitewash and 4″ liming wax. 4″ x 9″
Concentra, 2008, Turned and carved Mahogany. 4″ x 13″
Feather 11,903, 2012, Hand-carved White Oak. Burnished with graphite powder. 4.5″ x 2″ x .875″
Feather 11,902, 2012, Hand-carved Silky Oak. Burnished with graphite powder. .5″ x 1.5″ x 4″
Feather 11,901, 2012, Hand-carved White Oak. Burnished with graphite powder. 4.5″ x 1.75″ x .875″
Feather 11,900, 2012, Hand-carved White Oak. Burnished with graphite powder. 4″ x 1.875″ x 1.25″
Feather 11,899, 2013, Hand-carved White Oak. Burnished with graphite powder. 1″ x 1.25″ x 3″
Feather 11,898, 2013, Hand-carved White Oak. Burnished with graphite powder. Holly box. .75″ x 1.25″ x 3″
Feather 11,892, 2014, Hand-carved White Oak endgrain. Steam-bent Wenge spine. Pyrographed and dyed. 1.75″ x 2″ x 2.5″
Feather 11,889, 2015, Hand-carved White Oak. Burnished with graphite powder. .625″ x 2″ x 3.75″
Feather 11,888, 2015, Hand-carved White Oak. Burnished with graphite powder. .75″ x1.5″ x 4″
Feather 11,887, 2015, Hand-carved White Oak. Burnished with graphite powder. 1.25″ x 2.375″ x 4.25″
Feather 11,886, 2013, Hand-carved Wenge. Finished with wax. 7.5″ x 2″ x 3.75″
Feather 11,883, 2016, Hand-carved White Oak. Burnished with graphite powder. 4.5″ x 2.25″ x 1.25″
Sisters, 2014, Multi-axis split-turned and carved Basswood frame, finished with India Ink and burnished with beeswax. Mirror glass backed with Dacron and wool. 25.5″ x 18″ x 1.75