Wondrous ways with wood

This year’s Material exhibition at the Messums Wiltshire gallery is top notch

Paloma Varga Weisz’s Locked Twins, £26,720
Paloma Varga Weisz’s Locked Twins, £26,720

In the early 1900s, the Messum family held royal warrants in boat building on the Thames, specialising in inshore and coastal wooden skiffs. It is entirely fitting, then, that the latest Material exhibition to be showcased at its Messums Wiltshire gallery should focus on wood.

Christopher Kurtz’s Untitled (Pavilion Stool), £4,400
Christopher Kurtz’s Untitled (Pavilion Stool), £4,400
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The Material: Wood show, which is open from Wednesday August 8 to Sunday September 9 (with a free-to-attend private view on Saturday August 11), is a cornucopia of timber: wooden tables, intriguing objects, figurative sculptures, steamed plywood and handcarved stools, paintings of wooden boats, wood-cut prints, exquisite turned vessels and beautifully constructed contemporary interpretations of the country chair. All are gathered in the vast 13th-century tithe barn in Tisbury that is the Messums gallery’s country home.

Eleanor Lakelin’s Carved Hollow Form, price on request
Eleanor Lakelin’s Carved Hollow Form, price on request
Sam Bakewell’s gilded, carved form Razed/Raised, £7,800
Sam Bakewell’s gilded, carved form Razed/Raised, £7,800

The collection includes many refined pieces. Heatherwick Studio’s Friction table (2017, £160,000, to order) is a sleek, precisely engineered design made from paper, which is infused with resin and extends like an accordion to form an ellipse. Eleanor Lakelin’s ethereal carved, charred and bleached wooden vessels (price on request) will also be shown, alongside Untitled (Pavilion Stool) by Christopher Kurtz (2018, £4,400). The piece, which is handcarved in cherrywood and treated with aniline dye for a dark finish, is a meditation on pavilion architecture. “This little furniture folly lives somewhere between a counter stool, a cocktail table and a sculpture – where the function and purpose can change upon the viewer’s perspective,” Kurtz says.

Alastair Mackie’s miniature pavilion Canopy, £36,000
Alastair Mackie’s miniature pavilion Canopy, £36,000
Richard Woods’ Remnant No 2 (Under the Back Stairs), £1,400
Richard Woods’ Remnant No 2 (Under the Back Stairs), £1,400

Gareth Neal’s atmospheric installation – entitled Block 1: Colonnade (and part of the Block Series: Ancestral Fossils, 2017, £23,400) – features an antique workbench mounted with a charred, carved oblong of wood, giving rise to a piece that is mysterious and poetic, while Sam Bakewell’s Razed/Raised (2017, £7,800), inspired by German limewood sculpture, is a thrilling gilded carved form.  

Heatherwick Studio’s Friction table, £160,000
Heatherwick Studio’s Friction table, £160,000
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Two of the makers at the show take the idea of wood back into the forest. Alastair Mackie’s miniature minimal pavilion, entitled Canopy (2014, £36,000), features a curved roof made from laminated sections of leaf, while Sebastian Cox has collaborated with designer Ninela Ivanova to produce highly patterned lights and stools made from fungus and freshly cut wood waste (Mycelium + Timber, from £280). These ingenious objects combine raw beauty with sustainability. “We have a near obsession with trying to find new uses for wood,” Cox says.

To inspire visitors to try their own hand at woodwork, Messums is also running a series of workshops, masterclasses and lectures – including a chair-making course (£385) with artist and designer Chris Eckersley.

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