After an hour on freeways and the long crossing over Chesapeake Bay, I find my way into the quaint line up of colonial brick and stone building defining old town –really old, established in 1711. It’s fairly easy to find my way into the busy festival grounds of this annual art and waterfowl themed event that dominates the entire town, but once there the chaos of the moment leaves me bewildered.
Numerous painters, sculptors and the best of bird carvers exhibit in three different locations, and the downtown is jammed. Where to park? And where is the building I am assigned to? I can’t look and drive, I have no idea where to unload, so I pull over curbside with the dozens of “no parking” signs lining the streets designated for festival preparations.
I better call Doug. I need to find my final landing site. I better call Doug. I know he is extremely busy organizing the exhibits spread throughout old town, but I have his cell number handy just for this occasion, and surprisingly, he answers immediately.
“I can’t find the armory building [where my booth assignment is] and I need to know where to park and unload.”
“Where are you now,” Doug responds.
“Good question. I’m on Harrison Street, and I am looking straight down the street at a large stone church.”
“Are you in the white van?”
I look up and Doug has moved into the street in front of the church and is waving at me. I laugh and wave out the side window of the white rental van, “well, I guess I am in the right place!”
“Just go around the corner in front of the church, the armory is on the left corner and you can unload there,” and Doug moves back into the pavilion tents being set up, ready to put out more fires and line out other lost souls.
The stoic Christ Church was shielded by an immense oak tree at least 8-9 feet in diameter, which was presumably growing there in 1840 when the church was built. The old armory building dominated the opposite corner, with its flight of wide steps and the façade of the flat roof looking like a giant rook in a chess game. I inched my way around the corner through the surreal time warp, as a Bart Walters bronze of three geese fully eight feet tall appeared adjacent to the armory’s sweeping steps. What better way to designate the building as the Waterfowl Festival headquarters.
Now the real work begins, the “in the trenches” and behind the scenes effort involved in showing art in public exhibitions, an important facet of any artist’s life in the field. The gracious and kind show organizers greet me at the armory entrance and easily answer my query about where to set up my exhibit, since we are standing right in front of my assigned spot. “Well it is right here,” and an assistant pointed to the right of the main entry. I am a bit stymied and flattered at the same time, to be placed at the very front of the main hall.
As I got busy taping up random material sections over the plain wood panels framing my booth, a lady organizer queried in light fun, “so you don’t like our backdrops, huh? “Oh, they are wonderful,” I commented, “and just what I need to display my wall hanging sculptures.” In her defense, this was a new experimental production, as sculptors and painters were inter mixed in the various buildings and venues for the first time, instead of segregated by buildings as in the past exhibitions. The personnel were anxious to see how it would work and what the appearance of the overall show would be. One probationary issue was the pegboard backdrops which were uniformly set up throughout the hall, which were essential for painter to display their work, and were completely covered by their paintings. But for sculptors, the panels could be a distraction and served little or no purpose other than a back wall to the exhibited works. Fortunately, I actually needed wall space since I also had wall hanging sculpture to display.
Challenges of setting up a booth; problems, solutions, and the final result
My original plans to set up an attractive display had unraveled, since all that generous space at the front of the hall was more than I had planned for. The black fabric I had for a neutral backdrop was inadequate in size, the clips to hang it were too small to secure the fabric to the wood frame. What to do. Search for a store and buy more fabric? Not enough time. I had too much space for my pre-planned booth décor and not enough black material for backdrop draperies. I am stymied over the situation, and ponder my predicament. How can I create a presentable art space? I survey the scene once again, and there are six large wood pegboard panels that make up my booth backdrop. There were six connected panels and I had six pieces to hang, so that matched up perfectly.
I had been chasing a full roll of pure white duct tape throughout the packing and shipping process. I always like to have duct tape on hand when building a booth, and well after the crate of carvings was shipped, I searched for it at the last minute before traveling, to no avail.
The white duct tape magically showed up in the shipping crate, and there it was in front of me at the booth site, along with the black cloth. The light bulb finally flashed on! With the materials on hand, why not cut the cloth into rectangles matching each art piece, so each one is framed by the black material, then hang each cloth section by carefully taping the entire perimeter to the booth walls, this creating a white border around each black rectangle. Each art piece would be framed by a striking black panel bordered by a two inch white strip.
I try a test run with a scrap of cloth, and the tape secures it perfectly! How I love inspiring solutions when thinking on your feet! With the problem solved, I question how tedious and time consuming the process would be; everything would need to be cut and taped very carefully to have a sharp looking display. The end result had to be appealing in appearance. Confident enough to take the risk, I tore into the new founded project.
Before long I have tape and material chopped with scissors and scattered all over the place, and in the flourish of plastering white tape on the walls, I notice some quizzical glances coming my way. With shreds of material strewn about and white duct tape dangling from the plain pegboard panels, a headliner artist from a neighboring booth came over.
“I have some black duct tape,” she hopefully suggested. I tried to give her a look of reassurance, knowing full well that artists strive to have the best possible presentation and don’t welcome a sloppy or tarnished look from a neighboring booth. She was unaware that I had a large selection of wall sculpture to hang on the backdrops.
While diving into my new plan, it became apparent that I was attracting more attention, and began picking up some comments from the show organizers and volunteers. “What is he doing?” I heard the show staff wondering.
As I polished up the final touches of my installation, I wondered if my presentation was passable. The show manager came by, stopped and observed my progress, and immediately exclaimed “Now that looks great!” My neighboring artist who seemed hesitant at my erratic booth building came over. “Terry, you crack me up! That looks like modern art!” she exclaimed with enthusiasm. It seemed that I had pulled it off, my presentation was being met with approval! After verifying that everything I had done was extemporaneous, the show volunteers continued discussing my display, with comments like “I can’t believe he had not planned this,” and “well, artists can just do this type of thing.”
Finally, the opening night arrived, which is an invitation only event for exclusive guests. A gentleman showed an extra interest in my free form eagle with naturally formed wings widely spread. “Do you know the woodworker Nakashima?” he asks, and without a second thought I exclaim, “Do you mean George Nakashima from Bucks County, Pennsylvania?”
“That’s the one, the wood guru and furniture craftsman who also authored Soul of the Tree” he replied.
I acknowledged that he had been a mentor and inspiration early in my wood art career. “In fact, I still have a Life magazine article about Nakashima from the early seventies that expounded on his spiritual connections with the trees and their special woods,” I explained. It was from that article that I first saw the term “free form” style, which described the natural edges with the contours and textures of the tree worked into the Nakashima furniture designs, and I have used that description for my natural style carvings ever since.
“Well, this eagle sculpture by Terry Woodall will be prominently displayed on our George Nakashima table that we purchased years ago,” he clarified as he proceeded with the purchase.
I was stunned and highly complimented. It was the opening night of the exhibit, and I could visualize my eagle perched on a Nakashima table and go home happy, all from this one pleasant encounter.
Where on Earth?! Waterfowl Festival, Easton, Maryland, 2015. Also exhibiting in the 2016 festival, November 10-13