A few years ago Stoney Lamar, one of America's top woodturners, was watching a video of himself at the lathe when he had a startling realization.
"I said, ‘That man has Parkinson's,' " he recalls. "It was pretty powerful."
When doctors confirmed he had the neurological disease, it was devastating, given that Lamar's livelihood and identity depended on manual dexterity. But while it was "the end of one lifetime and the beginning of another," the Saluda, North Carolina-based artist now says his struggle has strengthened both his work and his belief in craft's ability to empower and heal.
In November, Lamar, 59, received a lifetime achievement award from the Collectors of Wood Art during the SOFA decorative arts and design expo in Chicago, where the del Mano Gallery featured his new sculptures.
"We've honored artists before, just for their work. Stoney has the additional hat he wears as an advocate," says his friend Robyn Horn, a fellow woodworker and founding member of the collector group. As a trustee of the American Craft Council and representative of the Windgate Charitable Foundation (which sponsors fellowships at the University of North Carolina's Center for Craft, Creativity & Design), Lamar is passionate about promoting handwork. "This is serious stuff, the fact that we're maintaining a tradition of using our hands in this culture and society," he says.
His mission became even more personal after his diagnosis. "The fact that I'm a maker has given me a way to deal with it. When you make stuff, it's all about intentional movement. I understand that aspect of my body better now," Lamar says. "Robyn and I always used to talk about how art saves lives. It never really became a cogent reality for me until this happened."
Horn thinks Lamar has "really come into his own" lately, and he agrees. Having to be economical with his fine-motor skills has pushed him to get to the essence of his vision, resulting in pieces that are more streamlined, architectural, and refined.
"It's kind of a funny thing," he marvels. "I feel like I'm doing some of the best work of my life right now."
Knoxville's Glass Duo
These are busy, fulfilling days for husband-and-wife glass artists Richard Jolley and Tommie Rush.
At SOFA Chicago, the Art Alliance for Contemporary Glass gave the couple its 2010 award for outstanding accomplishment. (Collector Jon Liebman and the Museum of Arts and Design were also honored.)
Back home in Knoxville, Tennessee, they've both been working on major commissions. Known for his figurative sculptures, Jolley is creating what will be one of the largest glass installations anywhere - on a 100-foot wall for the great hall of the Knoxville Museum of Art. Rush, who serves as an ACC trustee, is also doing a wall ("not nearly as big as Richard's, thank goodness"), for the boardroom of HGTV's new corporate building; like her vessels, it will have a botanical theme, reflecting her love of gardening.
Married since 1988, they each take a distinctive approach to glass. "I definitely see that blend of art and science in Richard. For him it's a cerebral endeavor involving lots of research and chemistry," Rush says. Her style is more romantic, as befits a native of Mobile, Alabama: "I am a product of the Deep South. Growing up, I thought everyone had 10-foot-tall camellia bushes and beautiful cut-glass crystal vases full of flowers all around the house."
One thing they fully share is a commitment to local outreach. For years they've worked with Knoxville's Community School of the Arts, bringing at-risk kids into their 10,000-square-foot studio to blow glass.
"As far as knowledge assimilation goes, there are different ways of learning," says Jolley, who overcame dyslexia. "We're not trying to make artists out of them, just give them a bigger world view." He tells of one fifth-grader for whom spinning out a glass bowl became a life-changing lesson in centrifugal force. "He's now a junior at Georgia Tech, because science became real to him."
"The vase and beyond: the Sidney Swidler Collection of the Contemporary Vessel" is among the inaugural shows at the newly expanded Crocker Art Museum in Sacramento, California (through April 10). Other recent additions to the Crocker's clay holdings include a gift from collector Rob Wood of 37 works by ceramist Rob Barnard, one of the foremost practitioners of the wood-fired tradition, and a donation by renowned ceramist Toshiko Takaezu of 45 pieces spanning her career ... Arts supporters Bernard and Sherley Koteen will by honored by the James Renwick Alliance during Spring Craft Weekend in Washington, D.C., March 24 - 27 ... To complement its extensive glass collections, the Chrysler Museum in Norfolk, Virginia, plans to open a $7.5 million glass studio in the fall.