Though rarely a site for art exhibitions, the Brown Family Environmental Center (BFEC) is the perfect gallery to host two innovative wood carvers and sculptors.
On March 31 at the BFEC, students and community members visited an art exhibition featuring two artists, Virginia Birchfield and Todd Celmar. The exhibition, “Contrast and Relief: Two Perspectives on Expression through Wood,” featured various wooden sculptures and furniture created by both artists. While Birchfield and Celmar had met only a few weeks before the showcase of their art, their work was complementary and the exhibition itself cohesive, as if there had been a single creative director behind the exhibition.
Birchfield started working with wood while in college at the Columbus College of Art & Design. Although she was initially interested in interior design, as she took classes in sculpture and furniture making. She discovered a passion for the more creative work of wood sculpture and she graduated from college on the cusp of the 2008 recession and found that larger architectural firms had stopped hiring new architects. Without access to a traditional job, she focused on sculpting, learning from trial and error. Through her minimalistic wall sculptures and large, sturdy benches, Birchfield strives to expose different layer of wood by stripping away the bark to reveal the different layers of wod underneath.
“I was trying to show the different stages of deterioration and the things that happen inside the wood that no one gets to see or appreciate very much,” she said. Her pieces contrast the layers beneath the wood with the outer bark that is usually the only part of a tree that people see.
Todd Celmar, had a different artistic trajectory. Celmar has only worked with wood for a year, even though he comes from a family of woodcarvers. His was inspired by this family tradition. His pieces are smaller in scale than Birchfield’s, shwcasing patterns with a deft subtlety. He also incorporates little details into his work that are reflective of the natural world, picking up aspects of nature that often go unnoticed and weaving them into his work. “One of my pieces is like a river valley, like a topographic map,” Celmar said.
Celmar is also a musician who plays drums in the Kenyon Symphonic Wind Ensemble. He said he has found similarities between his two art forms, referring to his great uncle Roy as a role model who was able to explore the similarity between the two art forms. “[He] had a bold big statement theme, a big shape, and then worked that shape in different permutations in his work.”
Both Birchfield and Celmar showcase wood in an unexpected state that showcases its inherent beauty. The subtle variations of their work, although they differ greatly in terms of style, demonstrate the inherent beauty of natural materials.