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Week of 8 February 2002 · Vol. V, No. 22


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Some assembly required
Edmonds' eclectic elegance reflected in current retrospective

By Hope Green

Nick Edmonds' intricate wood sculptures beckon viewers into worlds both familiar and supernatural. In one piece, a diorama of Boston floats above a pedestal, displaying in miniature the Dorchester gas tanks, skyscrapers, suggestions of waves, and fragments of a traffic-choked Southeast Expressway. Another whimsical piece represents Sharon, Mass., where Edmonds lives. In it, a white horse leaps over the moon above a toy town, where Victorian houses are stacked at precarious angles, tiny cars seem to fly down a steep, winding road, and a boy and girl wave from a railroad platform.

  Adam and Eve, 1997. Acrylic and mixed media on wood, 7' x 4' x 4'.

Other sculptures are composed of elegant, interlocking pieces that are less recognizable forms, yet meditating on these Japanese-inspired structures and considering their titles, such as Morning Pond, Icicles, or Forest Light Movement, it's easy to see how they capture the gestures of trees and water.

These works are part of a retrospective of the artist's work currently on view at the 808 Gallery, Nick Edmonds: A Natural World, 1972-2002. A professor in the College of Fine Arts school of visual arts since 1965 and currently director of its sculpture program, Edmonds plans to retire after the spring 2003 semester. The exhibition's more than 100 sculptures and landscape drawings represent his wide range of intellectual and artistic interests, including Zen poetry and the work of Constantin Brancusi.

One of these works is familiar to the BU campus: Musician I (1972), which has been on loan to BU since 1974, has until recently graced the Terrace Lounge of the GSU.

"Anyone who has ever attempted to make a woodcarving must be awed, even intimidated, by what this man has been able to do with that material," writes Harold Tovish, a CFA professor emeritus, in the exhibition catalogue, where he calls Edmonds "one of the outstanding sculptors in the United States."

Edmonds learned to whittle from a book when he was a child. He attributes his confidence working with large pieces of wood to a summer he spent on a logging project in upstate New York. When he finished his graduate and postgraduate training at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, in 1961, he first carved in stone before experimenting with logs he found in the Sharon town dump. When glue turned out to be an inadequate fastener
for the heavy, complex components of his figures, he began exploring the wood joinery techniques of other cultures.

In 1975 Edmonds went to Japan on a Fulbright fellowship, and as part of that trip, he studied the reconstruction of the main gate at the Tofukuji Temple in Kyoto. He received permission to photograph the final stage of restoration on the 600-year-old structure, and some of these images appear in the current show.

While in Japan, he was struck by the patterns in the landscape and began incorporating fir trees, mountains, water, and rock into his sculptures. At the same time, the ancient joinery methods enabled him to create sculptures that could be demounted and reassembled, making it that much easier to transport his work for exhibitions or store them at home in his studio.


Boston Gas-Port of Cinderella, 1993. Acrylic and mixed media on wood, 7' x 3' x 3'.


Often Edmonds takes advantage of the natural hues of walnut, beech, cherry, and other woods, making use of their knotty, grained surfaces and varying light values, but at times he also incorporates acrylic paint and marker. He insists that his sculptures are not abstractions, but simplifications.
"My idea about an abstraction is that it is not a tangible object but some kind of intangible idea the artist has in mind," he says. "Even in those of my sculptures that are most abstract, such as my wave sculptures, I was thinking of a particular aspect of a wave, like the foam on top of a large surge of water coming ashore."

Typically, he will work up an idea first as a series of drawings or as a cardboard prototype for a year or more before the carving begins. Many of his finished sculptures are composed of parts from discarded unfinished ones. "It's a constant editing process," he says.

In the past several years, Edmonds began to focus on couples as a motif. In Adam and Eve (1997), inspired by a much more abstract Brancusi of the same name, and also in his later work, he carved serpentine bands of drapery in and around the figures.

His latest piece, and one of the larger works on view, is Mountain Stealers (2002), which he jokingly calls a retirement sculpture. It's based on a recent vacation with his wife to Mount Ranier, and in it an older couple appear to be taking parts of the scenery home with them in the back of their car.

"It's not too far a stretch to call this a meditation on life or on mortality," says Katherine French, CFA coordinator of exhibitions. "This couple is leaving behind a heartbreakingly beautiful place and the question is, do you take it with you or do you leave it behind?"

French produced the exhibition catalogue, which will help Edmonds when he puts some of his work on the market. Previously he had few good photographs, particularly of his larger pieces. French is glad to help publicize the fruits of his career.

"I don't sense a strong ego in his work," she says. "I sense a strong sensitivity to the world and the desire to represent it. It's a very loving approach -- the idea that the world is this very beautiful place -- and he believes that to be able to interpret and present it to others is very important."

Nick Edmonds: A Natural World, 1972-2002, is on view at the 808 Gallery, 808 Commonwealth Ave., through March 29. Gallery hours are Tuesday through Sunday, 1 to 5 p.m., and by appointment. For more information, call 358-1034.


8 February 2002
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