Exhibition featuring large sculptural bowl created from famed Auburn Oaks opens at Auburn art museum May 17

AUBURN UNIVERSITY – The exhibition “Matt Moulthrop: Auburn Oak, ” opening May 17 at the Jule Collins Smith Museum of Fine Art, will feature a large woodturned bowl created from a portion of the famed Auburn Oaks.

The exhibition will be on display through Aug. 31 and will run concurrently with a retrospective of the entire Moulthrop family, “Heartwood: Woodturned Vessels by Matt, Philip and Ed Moulthrop.” Following the exhibitions’ closings, the Auburn Oak bowl will remain on view through 2015 as part of the museum’s growing permanent collection.

Third-generation woodturner Matt Moulthrop of Atlanta makes his art working primarily with southern tree species, in addition to trees from all over the United States. “You can go all over the country, and often it’s really the trees that can make a place special,” said Moulthop. “People have memories of that visual of a landscape.”

Moulthrop said he followed the national coverage and reached out to alumnus Jim Gorrie, who was then able to connect him with university and museum administrators about creating a piece for the museum’s collection.

“I went to view the Auburn Oaks as living trees and looked at what sections had the most interest,” he said. “I picked a section of the tree on College Street. There was a ‘Y,’ like a fork, in the tree near the top – almost like a crown.”

The selected portion was delivered to Moulthrop following the final roll in April 2013. He exposed the wood to the elements for several months as part of his preparation. He then created a rough form of the bowl before applying a treatment to prevent it from cracking. Following additional shaping and sanding, he applied a specialized finish, invented by his grandfather and further refined by him and his father, to preserve the integrity of the bowl. Moulthrop said that the poisoning did not impact the final product.

“The interest in these trees came from the fact that they were live oaks, the only evergreen in the oak family, and that they lived in an urban environment.”

Moulthrop said with the piece for Auburn, the public attention was greater than he would normally receive, not just from his namesake, but also because of the university and athletics connections.

“I tried to keep that perspective as I went through the creative forming of the bowl,” he said. “One of the things I intentionally did was to leave bark on both sides of the piece. I did this for two reasons: one to maximize the size of the final bowl, but also for the Auburn family who knew the tree. There is a bark inclusion at the very top of the piece, and that is where the two major limbs were reaching. This detail is significant to the character and to the historical context of the piece.”

Like Michelangelo who noted that the sculpture was already in the stone just waiting for the artist to reveal it, Moulthrop explained that he too felt he uncovered the piece inside the wood.

“That is the artistry of woodturning – dissecting before you begin,” he said. “You’re only given what nature provides you. In the type of sculpting I do and my family has done, we don’t have an enhancement. I want to uncover and reveal what’s underneath in the best way possible, and you have one shot at that intention. You can see that this bowl had more meaning than just the piece itself, so I incorporated as much as I could from the outside in.”

“Our hope is that museum visitors will be awed by the beauty and skill reflected in this artwork,” said Marilyn Laufer, museum director. “We also hope they view this as a tribute, not only to the trees that were lost, but the way the Auburn family was able to find a way to reaffirm our belief in humanity, evident in this example of creative expression.”

For additional information about the museum’s upcoming exhibitions and programs, visit www.jcsm.auburn.edu or call (334) 844-1484.

(Contributed by Charlotte Hendrix.)

Contacts: Charlotte Hendrix, Jule Collins Smith Museum of Fine Art, Auburn University, (334) 844-7075 (charlotte.hendrix@auburn.edu), or Mike Clardy, Office of Communications and Marketing, (334) 844-9999 (clardch@auburn.edu)