Ed Moulthrop, "Rare Ash Leaf Maple Chalice", 20 x 10 1/2".
by Judith Christensen
(Del Mano, West Los Angeles) The balance between form and function is a factor to consider when evaluating a craft. With the wood-turned bowls of Ed and Philip Moulthrop questions of form dominate those of function. Although the Moulthrops, father and son, share knowledge and technique, they work independently.
Ed produces some small pieces (average dimensions of from three to five inches), which he calls Donut Bowls. His specialty, however, is large bowls and vases--two to three feet tall --which may begin as logs weighing more than half a ton. The coloration in the various woods he uses ranges from the expected wood tones to warm yellows and holdens with red streaks (of ashleaf maple), which resemble the surface of a waxed, shiny ripe apple.
Besides the almost-spherical bowl shape that is his father's trademark, Philip produces an open (soup-bowl-like) shape. He also deviates from the single-hunk-of-wood process to create a lathe-turned bowl composed of hundreds of end grain sections grouted with epoxy.
Both father and son use only do- mestic woods and strive to reveal the color, grain and pattern intrinsic in each piece. Their endeavor to preserve the integrity of their medium drives each step of the process. Ed, who taught Philip blacksmithing, designed and made turning tools that allow him to handle the immense logs he often selects.
"Green turning"--rough-shaping the piece while the wood is still wet--is the Moulthrop's specialty. Then, for two to three months, the piece soaks in polyethylene glycol (PEG), an innovation Ed introduced to wood-turning during the 1950s. Although this prevents cracking, it changes the quality of the wood so that some traditional finishes--oil and wax, for example, cannot be utilized. Aiming to achieve a durable, yet crystal clear finish that reveals the complexities of the wood, Philip refined the high-gloss epoxy-coating process the elder Moulthrop developed.
When Ed discusses his work, the thrill of feeling the huge block of wood "resist the leverage of a big cant hook," and the enjoyment of sensing "the tug of gravity" as the hoist lifts a "fifteen-hundred pound block from the ground." The resulting product, however, imparts an impression not of resistance or weight, but, particularly in the pieces that are two or three-tenths of an inch thick, refinement and delicacy. Shaping these vessels, the Moulthrops bring out the contrasts embodied in the material from which they come. For trees possess not only mass and solidity; they exemplify the fragility of life as well.
While in some work the voice of the artist is distinct and direct, in the work of Ed and Philip Moulthrop what they have to say is filtered completely through the medium itself. The smooth flowing lines that accentuate the grain and patterns of the wood reveal the Moulthrops' intimate understanding of the nature of and possibilities inherent in the raw material.