AUBURN UNIVERSITY – A portion of the recently removed Auburn Oaks at Toomer’s Corner will be turned into a contemporary work of art for the Jule Collins Smith Museum by Matt Moulthrop, a third-generation wood turner. Moulthrop’s work has been displayed in museums throughout the United States, including the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American Art in Washington, D.C., and the Carnegie Museum of Art in Pittsburgh.
Moulthrop, an Atlanta resident, contacted the university after national media picked up the story about the poisoning of the Auburn Oaks. That resulted in the museum’s partnering with the artist to create artwork from Auburn Oaks wood that will be part of the museum’s permanent collection.
“When you consider the legacy and contributions of the entire Moulthrop family to wood turning, I would equate this in art history terms to having Pablo Picasso call you up to talk about creating a painting for the museum,” Laufer said. “We are very grateful for this opportunity.”
A portion of the wood from the oaks will be delivered to the artist from which he will create a wood bowl about 30 inches in diameter. The entire transformation process, which includes drying, turning and treating the wood, is expected to take approximately one year.
The history of the Moulthrop family name in the wood turning field began with Matt’s grandfather, Ed Moulthrop, who was an architect by trade and started turning wood after reading an article in “Popular Mechanics.”
“Ed Moulthrop designed his own custom lathe and the tools necessary to work with large-scale pieces,” said Laufer. “He is credited with elevating wood turning to a highly regarded art form and is known for large-scale wood vessels from trees that primarily grow in the Southeast.”
“Ed’s son, Philip, worked alongside his father to further customize the tools, techniques and treatment solutions,” she said. “He also created a way of using branches to create a new mosaic effect in his work. Matt apprenticed with both his grandfather and father and carries on the tradition with the way he can read a piece of wood and reveal the story of the wood in shape and color. He continues to honor the legacy and make his own mark through further innovation and technical expertise.
Laufer said plans to unveil the bowl at a later date are in process and will depend on final delivery of the bowl and the upcoming exhibition schedule.
“So much of the Moulthrops’ unique technique calls for the artist to use art, geometry, horticulture, chemistry, engineering and even history to create the finished product. Using those skills, all of which are part of our academic tradition, to create a memorial artwork from the Auburn Oaks for the university’s art museum is a fitting tribute. Long after the last roll, this piece will serve as a reminder of the trees, and our celebrated traditions, as well as a beautiful work of art by a renowned artist that transforms the normal into the extraordinary,” Laufer said.
For more on the museum, visit www.jcsm.auburn.edu.
(Contributed by Charlotte Hendrix)