Philip's Spanish oak (224) globe looks like the face of an owl from one angle and a dish of tiramisu from another. The rich chocolate browns and caramel golds of Matt's black walnut (219) vase, which stands over two feet high, are reminiscent of a luxurious and velvety human ponytail. Its wave and shape suggest movement and drape, even though the material is hardwood. Both Matt and Philip's ashleaf maple pieces are fleshy, almost wound-like in places, with their reds and oranges and freckly spatterings. There's a cartographic element here, too, as if Earth's resources can only mimic the shape and structure of the earth itself, a canyon wall, the western edge of South America.

Not all of a tree's beauty is a product of its own growth. Spalted sweet gum and spalted oak are not varieties of gum and oak, but wood (usually hardwood) that has basically decayed and been colored or bleached by fungus rot. The fungi themselves, which grow on felled trees, color the wood, creating intricate patterns of what are called stain or zone lines. Philip's spalted hackberry (185) globe reveals a nearly photographic image of a fungus fan. It's smooth as glass, yet textured. Spalted red oak (220), another tall vase turned by Matt, features zone lines that suggest figure drawings. Some of the 80 pieces in this exhibit reveal nearly symmetrical Rorschach-type patterning, but others have lines and constellations that seem so purposeful as to have been plotted by some calibrated seismic drawing contraption.

That deep and hidden beauty is true beauty is cliché. But that each piece of wood's unique patterning is completely out of the artist's hands yet brought out by his hands is beautiful, wordless irony. The story is not lost — three generations, two represented here, set out to translate those fallen, wordless lives one tree at a time.

The Moulthrops' wooden vessels articulate emptiness perfectly.
courtesy of bentley gallery
The Moulthrops' wooden vessels articulate emptiness perfectly.

Details

Philip and Matt Moulthrop's wooden vessels are on display at Bentley Gallery, 4161 N. Marshall Way in Scottsdale, through April 2. Visit www.bentleygallery.com for more information.

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Matt Moulthrop has been chosen for the 40 Under 40: Craft Futures exhibit in 2012, at the Smithsonian American Art Museum's Renwick Gallery, where the museum's collection of crafts and decorative arts are housed, in Washington. His contribution will become part of the museum's permanent collection. Both his father and his grandfather are represented there as well.

So what became of Matt's Sam Maloof chair-scrap vessel? It's on display at the Carter Library (all three Moulthrops have work exhibited there). And, you might be relieved to know, the Obamas' gift-giving has since improved. France's first lady, Carla Bruni-Sarkozy, scored a limited-edition Gibson acoustic guitar months after the DVD gaffe. Not exactly an anti-slavery ship, but wood, it seems, is good.

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