Image: David Ellsworth, Line Ascending #5, 2013, Oak burl, constructed, courtesy of the artist

In a career spanning four decades, David Ellsworth has become one of the premier designers of turned wooden vessels, deeply influencing contemporary craft and numerous artists.

This January, the Hunterdon Art Museum will spotlight his work in David Ellsworth: A Passion for Wood, an exhibition which focuses on the woodturner’s technical and aesthetic development through the years, noted Ingrid Renard, who is curating this exhibition with Hildreth York.

The exhibition opens Sunday, Jan. 14 with a reception from 2 to 4 p.m. Prior to it, David and Wendy Ellsworth (who has a solo exhibition devoted to her bead work at the Museum) will lecture and participate in Q&A session at 1 p.m. Everyone is welcome, and no advanced registration is required.

David Ellsworth: A Passion for Wood was made possible in part by a donation from the Windgate Charitable Foundation.

During the mid-1970’s, Ellsworth designed a series of bent turning tools and the methods necessary to create the stunning hollow vessels with tiny opening and coin-thin walls for which he is known worldwide. Early on, Ellsworth was creating wooden bowls but suddenly started creeping in to reduce the size of the opening. When he realized he couldn’t reach inside the work with the implements he had, Ellsworth decided to heat and bend steel to create tools that would enable him to hollow out the insides of solid wood blocks as they spun on a lathe.

One early inspiration to Ellsworth was the Hopi-Tewa pottery maker Nampeyo (1859-1942), who created dynamic shaped pots. “My primary influences come from the energy and beauty of Native American ceramics, the architecture of the American Southwest with its textures, tones and monumentality, and the natural beauty of the material of wood – what I refer to as the most perfectly imperfect material to work with,” he noted in a recent talk.

Ellsworth noted that other pieces – particularly in their form, their tiny openings and his willingness to “let the material do what it does best” — were influenced by ceramist Toshiko Takaezu, who donated her time and energies to the Hunterdon Art Museum for more than five decades.

In the mid-1980s, Ellsworth began working with wooden spheres as his primary design element. Ellsworth notes that the sphere is the most universal form and finds it challenging to modify and distinguish such spheres because they are “too perfect.”

Ellsworth is also recognized for incorporating decay into some of his pieces, contrasting rotted sections alongside pristine wood, or using the rounded knotty growths on trees known as burls.

Ellsworth is the founding member of the American Association of Woodturners, of which he was president from 1986-1991, and its first Honorary Lifetime Member. He has written numerous articles on subjects related to craft and woodturning and has operated the Ellsworth School of Woodturning at his home and studio in Buck’s County, Pennsylvania since 1990.

His works have been included in the permanent collections of thirty-six museums, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. He has taught workshops throughout the world and has received fellowship grants from the National Endowment of Arts, the Pennsylvania Council for the Arts, and the PEW Foundation.

In 2009 he was elected the “Master of the Medium” by the James A. Renwick Alliance of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. He is an Honorary Lifetime Member of the Collectors of Wood Art, and a Fellow and a former Trustee of the American Craft Council. His first book, Ellsworth on Woodturning, was published by Fox Chapel Publishing in 2008.

The Museum is at 7 Lower Center St. in Clinton, New Jersey, 08809. Our website is and our telephone number is 908-735-8415. Hours are Tuesday through Sunday, 11 am – 5 pm and suggested admission is $5.

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