“My spoons are sculptures; my sculptures are spoons – not spoons for stirring the soup but spoons for stirring the soul.”
– Norm Sartorius, woodcarver
ASHLAND When is a spoon not just a spoon? When it’s also a work of art.
The spoons sculpted by West Virginia artist Norm Sartorius, 74, of Parkersburg, are works of art on display in the Decorative Arts Gallery at the Huntington Museum of Art. Some of his letter openers are also on display.
His works have been featured in some of the nation’s biggest exhibitions, including the Smithsonian Craft Show and the Philadelphia Museum of Art Craft Show. His work has been featured in the 2019 West Virginia Jury Exhibition at the Charleston Cultural Center and some of his letter ops are in the permanent collection of the Huntington Museum of Art. Other public collections in which his works are featured include the Carnegie Museum of Art, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Renwick Gallery, the Yale Art Gallery, and the Museum of Fine Art in Houston.
Sartorius started his career as a social worker, but learned it wasn’t for him. He hopped in his car and drove across the country, camping as he went and trying to figure out what he wanted to do.
“When I came back to Baltimore, I met Phil and Sandye Jurus, who were a little older and had both jewelry and woodworking apprentices. They offered to work with them. only offer I had and I worked with them for 600 hours, “Sartorius says. “I learned the powerful sculpting techniques as they had learned from Emil Milan in Pennsylvania a few years ago. I made small, functional items that they sold in their store, The Village Silversmith. The woodworking craft was immediately more rewarding than social work.The focus on spoons did not come until more than 10 years later, after working with sculptor Bobby Reed Falwell, who briefly taught at Murray State University.
Sartorius worked with him for 18 months.
“He loved my spoons,” Sartorius said. “That’s what attracted him to me in the first place, but he wanted me to sculpt. There were other forces at play regarding the decision to focus on the spoons, but the strong support from Bobby with the Sculptural Spoons was helpful. “
He said that because spoons are common and utilitarian, they are more accessible as sculptures.
“In 1990, I voluntarily gave up the utility, at least for the spoons, and started making one-of-a-kind spoons using some of the rarest woods in the world,” he said. . “I especially liked the fact that I could make each one different. Sometimes they look quite simple, other times they are barely recognizable as spoons. Some tell a story, others do a spoon. declaration.”
It depends on the wood what type of spoon it will create, he said, noting that color, grain and shape determine what is possible. With more than 50,000 wood species in the world, the possibilities are endless.
“I think people are curious and easily drawn to the beauty of wood, so if I can find some really special wood to use for my spoons, that turns me and potential customers on,” Sartorius said. “I have also discovered that some people associate wood with events and places: the tree in the yard of their childhood home; the mantle of their fireplace; the tree under which they were married. I did a lot of commission work for people who wanted wooden spoons that evoked special memories for them. “
At the HMA are on display spoons donated by Nora Stevens of Connecticut and letter ops donated by Ron Springwater from Washington, DC, who met Sartorius at a craft show, bought a letter opener and got it so loved that they befriended.
“One thing about Norm, if you stop and start talking to him he can’t wait to talk to visitors and find out about them and see what they might be like in relation to carpenters,” Springwater said. . “I found him easy to get to know.”
The two stayed in touch for years and became friends, just like their wives, Springwater said.
He even brought some wood home to give to Sartorius from his trips to Africa for work.
At one time, Springwater owned around 100 Sartorius letter openers, but donated around 45 to the Racine Art Museum in Racine, Wisc.
He donated five to the HMA.
Springwater said he had his reasons for appreciating letter openers.
“His spoons are not functional, but letter ops are functional,” he said, noting that in Africa he owned a collection of letter ops that piqued his interest in the objects.
“When I saw the letter ops Norm had in his collection, I was surprised that he used hardwood and made letter ops in different ways,” he said. he stated, explaining that letter ops are made from two types of wood – one for the blade and one for the handle – and some are made from a single piece of wood. Springwater prefers single wood items.
“Norm said the laminates were more important, but the excitement came from the wood alone,” Springwater said. “I like the tactile sensation, to hold them while grabbing them, to feel them.”
Sartorius said Springwater liked having letter ops made from a variety of woods.
“He intended each letter opener to be carved from a different wood, so he had a very large collection of world woods in the form of letter opener,” he said.
Sartorius said that part of the joy of an artistic career is meeting collectors and developing relationships with them: “The purchase of each piece is certainly important and essential, but beyond this financial transaction lies develops a mutually beneficial relationship where everyone shares their knowledge, exposure and experience. You can think of it as networking.
He said collectors love to share their love for the items they buy and encourage others to collect as well. Likewise, artists can introduce collectors to other artists they might like to collect.
“When a museum accepts a new work into its collection, the work can survive well beyond the life of an artist,” he said. “Museums protect and document the artistic work of cultures for future generations to study and appreciate.”
The exhibition will continue until the fall.
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