“What’s important to try to catch [is] the spirit that trees have, especially big old hardwood trees, and if I can catch that and make it look simple … the best forms are those that look as if they just happened.” Gordon Dunphy.
Gordon Dunphy lived on the banks of the Nashwaak River, near Taymouth, NB where he had a dairy farm until he turned from farming to embrace the art of wood turning, making a distinct and significant contribution to New Brunswick’s cultural landscape. The New Brunswick poet Michael Pacey has attributed an “innate sense of mischief as key to Dunphy’s explorations and subversions of time-honoured artistic binaries such as art and nature, art and craft, form and content, inside and outside.” Working with wood all his life, he turned stumps and gnarly burls into classic vessel forms, with paper-thin walls and highly polished surfaces, that maintain the distinctive characteristics of the original material and transcend the craft.
Some of his most distinctive pieces were created from burls, “when the cells start to grow faster than the tree itself, [they produce] a protruding growth on the tree. And often, not always, but often, it’s a beautiful grain in colour,” Dunphy said. The artist’s ability to find great beauty in a common, classic piece of New Brunswick nature, the hardwood tree, meant that very quickly his art was collected the world over, and he won every significant craft award in New Brunswick. “He just saw things in wood that nobody else could,” said Kate Rogers, previous director of the New Brunswick Crafts Council.
While co-curating this exhibition in 2019, Jennifer Pazienza observed that “Gordon is a poet whose verse is written upon and within his vessels. The object that stands before you, the spaces they create carry the poetic imagination of Gordon Dunphy. The poetics that constitute them resonate and reverberate with imagination that comes from the depths and reverie of his daydreams; a place where, as Gaston Bachelard said, time ceases to exist, and space is everything. These vessels ask us to consider ways they influence the space they occupy within the place we find them. They ask us to reflect upon them and our relationship to them, to engage with and beyond their surfaces and read between their lines and shape”.
Considered one of the finest wood turners in North America, nearly 30 works were donated to the Beaverbrook’s collection in 2009 after the artist died. Many of them are on view here. The collection was assembled by the artist as a legacy documenting his career. “In a sense, Dunphy curated this exhibition himself,” says John Leroux, the Gallery’s Manager of Collections and Exhibitions.
Exhibition co-curated by Jennifer Pazienza and John Leroux and organised by the Beaverbrook Art Gallery.