The Artisan’s Craft
Fine Art Woodworkers Exhibit at Museum of the Rockies

By Pat Hill

Oct. 5, 2012

The end of October will see the beginning of a new three-month-long exhibit at Bozeman's Museum of the Rockies, titled The Artisans Craft: The Fine Art of Woodworking, that will feature the work of dozens of artists from the region who have chosen wood as their medium, including Ed Grunseth of Wilsall's Kristian Brunsdale Studio and Livingston's Rusty Viers (of Viers Furniture Workshop).

Invitations to enter the exhibit were sent out to area woodworkers and custom furniture makers in 2011. Grunseth said he submitted photos depicting his concepts for the exhibit, and 2012 started out with a welcome surprise when he found out he was one of 25 artists chosen.
“Steve Jackson (the curator at the Museum of the Rockies) called on Jan. 2 and told me I was in,” Grunseth told the Pioneer. “I was very happy to be one of the chosen ones.” Twenty one of the exhibiting artists are from Montana, three are from Wyoming, and one is from Idaho.

“It's a real opportunity to be included in this, a three-month-long exhibit, at the Museum of the Rockies,” said Rusty Viers. He told the Pioneer that the exhibit is not just an opportunity for him and the other exhibitors to showcase their art.
“I hope a lot of people not familiar with woodworking get to see what we do,” he said. Viers has been doing custom wood furniture for nearly 20 years in the Living-ston area, and Grunseth will have 40 years of woodworking under his belt in January.

“That's a lot of woodworking,” said Grunseth , “a lot of traveling, a lot of different styles, a lot of different approaches.” What Viers and Grunseth and other studio furniture artists do is essentially work out of the box, producing one-of-a-kind pieces of furniture that are also pieces of art. Both artists have two pieces in the exhibit. Grunseth's “Hunt Table,” which he dubbed the Copper Baron's Feast, is a square table that seats eight, made of walnut and topped with book matched cherry burl. It has ram's heads tucked under each corner, and ram's horns are carved into the chair backs, and Grunseth has also carved a ram's foot at the base of every chair leg.

“I try to put myself in character with a piece,” said Grunseth, “in this case putting myself into the character of the Copper Baron. The events with Wall Street and the banks and the power of a very rich few that's been in the news the last few years got me thinking that the elite are raping and pillaging again…and they can enjoy any opulence they want. The Ram's head represents that kind of ego, that kind of force. The table allows one to keep their associates close.” Grunseth said he hopes the table echoes the 19th- and early 20th-century era when copper barons ruled the roost, and keeping one's associates close was often integral to staying on top.

Viers has a table entry in the exhibition called the Indian Time Keeper that he described as a “cocktail table utilizing the theme of the Big Horn Medicine Wheel.”

“A few years ago I read a piece on the Medicine Wheel,” said Viers. “It's so close to home [southwest Montana]. What really got me was how the cairns at the site lined up with astronomical events like the Solstice.” Viers said the table, made of alder, juniper and cherry wood,  matches the geographical lines of the Wheel itself. Etched in the cherry wood on the table top is the Wheel, and two drawers on opposite sides of the table have the rising and setting sun represented on them.

Viers' other piece in the exhibition is a liquor cabinet he calls the Lineman, constructed entirely out of wooden cross arms from old power poles that came off of a ranch in the Jackson Creek area east of Bozeman. Even the glass insulators and metal pins from the old power poles are incorporated into the construction. Grunseth's second entry in the exhibit, the Saddle 'Em Up Stool, is aptly named, for it utilizes the basic structure of a Western saddle in its design.

Both Viers and Grunseth say that the American West exerts a strong influence on their art. They both have something to say with their pieces as well.

“I try to incorporate into my pieces something that tells a story,” said Viers. “It becomes an education process when I tell folks about a piece in relation to what it represents.” Grunseth often looks at a project as a melding of cultures that also results in a story, a story in which he often inserts himself while searching for the resulting piece of art, such as he did with the Copper Baron's Feast.

A story should accompany all the entries in this exhibit celebrating the craft of custom wood furniture-making. The Artisans Craft: The Fine Art of Woodworking opens Oct. 27, with artists and gallery talks from 11:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m., and also offers a lecture on fine art woodworking and the studio furniture movement at 8:00 p.m. by Joseph Godla, head of the conservation department for the Frick Museum in New York City.

“I'm very excited to be there, to meet other exhibitors,” said Grunseth. “It's such an honor to be asked by the Museum to take part. It's like a first sale, a first juried show-the ultimate is the museum show. I hope it educates people about custom studio furniture-making. It's not the catalog of nuts and bolts, it's how we arrange them.”

 

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