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 Edward Moulthrop  (1916 - 2003)

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Lived/Active: Georgia/Ohio      Known for: sculptor-turned wood vessels

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An example of work by Edward Moulthrop
Artwork images are copyright of the artist or assignee
This biography from the Archives of AskART:
The following biographical information, submitted October 2004, is from Matt Moulthrop, grandson of the artist. who was born in Rochester, New York in 1916, but grew up in Cleveland, Ohio. He attended Case Western Reserve University for
undergraduate in Cleveland and Princeton University for graduate school.

The text below is excerpted from the artist's obituary.

'Ed Moulthrop, 87, craftsman and artist'
"The Atlanta Journal-Constitution", 9/25/2003

"The grandmaster of wood turning is gone. Ed Moulthrop, a long-time Atlantan known for peerless vessels and platters that showcased southern woods with elegance and deceptive simplicity, died Tuesday after a long illness. He was 87.

'Ed Moulthrop was among a small and select group of wood-turners that brought an ancient craft into the sphere of contemporary art,' said David McFadden, chief curator and vice president of the Museum of Art and Design in New York. 'Today, turned and sculpted wood is one of the liveliest and most exciting mediums due to the standards of excellence set by such artists as Ed.'

A Moulthrop bowl is a moment of worldly perfection. Graceful forms polished to a diamond sheen pay homage to the chocolate and caramel tones of figured tulipwood or the black Rorschach splotches on minky brown chestnut. Not surprisingly, Moulthrop garnered a national reputation for his work, which can be found in museums across the country as well as in the White House and the palace of the Netherlands' Queen Beatrix. The High Museum of Art owns pieces, too, but they are not currently on view.

Examples of Moulthrop's work can be found in the Galleria in the Memorial Arts Building of the Woodruff Arts Center at 1280 Peachtree St. and in the lobby of Bank of America Plaza at the corner of North Avenue and Peachtree Street.

Wood turning was the New York native's second career. Moulthrop earned an architecture degree at Princeton University and came to Atlanta in 1944 to teach at Georgia Tech. He moved into private practice at Robert & Co., eventually becoming lead designer. He briefly supervised the young Frank Gehry, who went on to fame as the creator of Guggenheim Museum Bilbao in Spain.

The Carillon at Stone Mountain and the Boisfeuillet Jones Atlanta Civic Center are among Moulthrop's architectural credits. In 1955, he also designed the modern brick building that housed the High Museum of Art; the Woodruff's Memorial Arts
building was later constructed around it. He proudly remembered that his hero, Frank Lloyd Wright, complimented him on a design.

In his spare time, Moulthrop turned wood. The avocation dated from his teenage years, when he graduated from whittling with a penknife to a lathe he had bought with money earned from selling magazines. The year 1962 was pivotal. Moulthrop won first prize at the Arts Festival of Atlanta for a 6-inch bowl, which caught the attention of Blanche Reeves, Atlanta's late doyenne of crafts. She gave him a show at her shop the next year, and he had shown there ever since.

Respect for contemporary American crafts was in its infancy back then. Moulthrop wasn't sure he could earn a living making bowls, but he took the leap, resigning from Robert & Co. in 1972. He gave up architecture altogether in 1976.

Moulthrop was a modernist -- one of his biggest thrills was when the Museum of Modern Art in New York acquired a piece -- and he applied certain of the movement's precepts to his new metier. One was the directness with which he approached form. No flights of fancy for him -- he created a variety of shapes by subtle adjustment of proportions. "I like cleanness," Reeves said. "I like what Ed does not do to wood. Others wreck the hell out of it."

Another precept was truth to materials. Moulthrop considered himself a servant of his material. His goal was to give glory to the wood. Moulthrop never cut down a tree to make a bowl. He had relationships with treecutters who would bring him specimens they thought he might like. When ordinary eyes looked at these chunks, they may not have seen anything special. But Moulthrop had a sixth sense. He could look at a block of bare wood and know what the grain was and what he was going to do with it.

A pioneer in his field, Moulthrop had to make many of his own tools, which he forged in the studio adjacent to his northwest Atlanta home. With large-scale works, he solved the problem of the wood splitting or cracking by soaking it in a chemical solution that he had read about in "Popular Mechanics" magazine -- a preservative for wooden gun handles. He also developed chemicals that made the wood shine. In his prime, he spent eight- to 10-hour days in the studio working on objects in various stages of progress. He would rough out a shape on the lathe, refine it, sand it, refine some more, sand again and polish it with a jeweler's compound.

In the last years of his life, his work was selling for $3,000 to $50,000, depending on its size. Moulthrop was still working in his early 80s, but palsy and failing eyesight took their toll. About 1999, Moulthrop was depending on his grandson Matt to help him out. "Ed couldn't see, but he could feel," Matt Moulthrop said. "He would tell me when a bowl was too thick or he would just touch it up." He retired in 2002 and moved into assisted-living care with Mae, his wife of 61 years. Fortunately, he leaves a legacy not only through the sweet music of his spheres but also new generations of wood-turners in son Philip and grandson Matt, who are taking wood turning in their own directions.

"Dad taught me the basics," said Philip Moulthrop. "I learned by doing, by helping him. But a lot of it is by feel -- how to make certain cuts -- and I kind of feel like I'm still learning."

Ed Moulthrop was a confident man, but modest. "All artists are in pursuit of beauty," he once told a crowd at an awards ceremony. "I know I am. I don't ever expect to grasp it." But, of course, he did. Over and over and over again.

Ed Moulthrop brought an ancient craft into the realm of art.

The Museum of Modern Art, New York
The Detroit Institute of Arts
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
Arkansas Arts Center Decorative Arts Museum
Mint Museum of Art, Charlotte, North Carolina
American Craft Museum, New York
High Museum of Art, Atlanta, Georgia
Renwick Gallery, Museum of American Art
Smithsonian Institute
Boston Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Museum of Fine Arts, Houston
Arizona State University and Museum
Mobile Museum of Art, Alabama
Chicago Art Institute
Columbus Museum, Georgia
Copenhagen Museum of Art
Philadelphia Museum of Art

Bill Blass; John Portman; Jack Lenor Larsen; David Rockefeller; Ted Turner; Clare Booth Luce; Beverly Sills; Ted Nirenburg (President, Dansk International Designs); Stanley Marcus; Mary McFadden; Paolo Soleri; Charles Loloma (Grand Master of Modern Hopi Indian Jewlery Art); Fritz Scholder (famous Hopi Indian painter); golfers Jack Nicklaus and Gene Littler; I.O.C. President, Juan Samaranch (a gift from the City of Atlanta); Robert Goizetta (President, The Coca Cola Co.; Sam Johnson (of Johnson Wax); Steven Spielberg, Henry Geldzaher, Curator 20th Century Art, Metropolitan Museum of Art; A.N.C. President Nelson Mandela (a gift from Hilary Clinton); President Jimmy Carter; Prince and Princess Aga Khan; Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands (a gift from the City of Atlanta); Queen Margrethe of Denmark (a gift from President Clinton); President Ernesto Zedillo of Mexico (a gift from President Clinton); President Rodriguez of Costa Rica; Mayor William Campbell of Atlanta

The Georgia Governor's Office; Georgia Institute of Technology; Georgia State University; The Atlanta Historical Society; The Shepards Spinal Clinic; Vintage Invitational Golf Tournament, permanent trophy and annual trophies; The White House Collection of American Crafts; Kennesaw State University; Georgia Southern University

Southern Bell Headquarters, Atlanta; First American Bank, Nashville; First National Bank, Charlotte; The Coca Cola Co. World Headquarters, Atlanta; International Paper Co., New York; Chub Group Insurance Cos., New Jersey; Hallmark Cards, Kansas City; Northern Telecom Co., Atlanta; Cousins Properties, Atlanta; Monsanto World Headquarters, St. Louis; Columbia Pictures; M.C.I.; Hallmark; Phillip Morris; Cox Communications Co.; IBM, Atlanta; Fuqua Industries, Atlanta; Rockefeller Center Rainbow Room

The Vatican Museum, Rome, an International Exhibition "Crafts, Art, and religion," sponsored jointly by the Smithsonian Institute and The Vatican Museum, 1978
The Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian Institution, "The Art of the Turned Bowl," 1978
The XIII Olympics Art Exhibition, 1980, Lake Placid, New York
Art For Use, National Crafts Exhibition at The American Craft Museum, New York, 1980
Artists in Georgia, Exhibitions at the High Museum of Art, Atlanta, 1971, 1972, 1974
Twenty-Fifth Anniversary Exhibition of The American Craft Museum, New York, 1981 U.S. Information Agency, "Art in America," Exhibition for Easter Europe, 1986-1989 High Museum of Art, Atlanta, One Man Exhibit, 1987
U.S. Information Agency, "Craft Today, U.S.A.," European Exhibition 1989-1994 U.S. Information Agency, "Arts America," Overseas Exhibition, 1992-1995
U.S. Information Agency, "Out of the Woods, Turned Wood and American Craftsmen," 1995-1998

Wall Street Journal; New York Times; Village Voice; Atlanta Journal; Arizona Republic; Southern Accents; Creative Ideas; Home Mechanics; Fine Woodworking (with cover); American Craft (w.c.); The Woodworker (w.c. Great Britain); Holz and Elfenbein (w.c. Germany); World of Wood (w.c.); Popular Wood Working (w.c.); Woodturning, GrMagazine; Worth Magazine

Craftsmanship Medal, Atlanta Chapter of American Institution of Architects, 1978 Craftsmanship Medal, Georgia Association of American Institution of Architects, 1980

Biography from The Columbus Museum of Art, Georgia:
Edward Moulthrop was born in Rochester, New York in 1916.(1)  Raised in Cleveland, Ohio, he received his Bachelor’s degree in architecture from Case Western Reserve University in 1939. He earned a Master’s degree in architecture from Princeton in 1941. He then moved to Atlanta to teach at Georgia Tech until 1949, at which time he joined Robert and Company Assoc. Architects and Engineers in Atlanta as the chief designer.
Moulthrop designed such well-known structures as the Atlanta Civic Center and the Atlanta Airport. 

Ed Moulthrop had been attracted to working with wood since he whittled as a small child.  In his teens, he bought a small lathe with money he earned from delivering newspapers, and he started to turn wood.  In the 1960s, he began to experiment with large bowls, and he won an award for a walnut bowl in 1962 at the Atlanta Arts Festival. In 1974, he resigned from Robert and Company to focus on woodturning full time, and in 1976 he gave up architecture altogether.  He became what many consider the finest woodturner in America.  He was made a Fellow of the American Craft Council in 1987, and his work is found in numerous museum collections, including the Columbus Museum, Museum of Modern Art, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Renwick Gallery, the Mint Museum and the Boston Museum of Fine Arts.  Woodturning is the art of shaping a log block as it revolves rapidly on a lathe.  There are approximately 50 to 200 professional woodturners working in the United States.  Moulthrop was unsurpassed because he operated on large equipment that he designed and built himself, while most woodturners use small commercial lathes.  He could convert a 1,600-pound log into an 80-pound bowl. 

He got most of his rare woods from the forests of Georgia, South Carolina, and Florida. Before Moulthrop shaped a block of wood, he tried to predict how the natural colors would affect the finished piece and how the unseen inner patterns of grain and color would look when they were exposed.  After he cut a block into a rough shape, he soaked it in a vat of polyethylene glycol no. 1000 for four to six months to keep the surface from shrinking, cracking, or splitting. He then honed them into the final shapes on the lathe, afterwards sanding and finally polishing them to a finished luster.  Moulthrop preferred simple shapes so that the inherent colors and patterns of the wood were displayed to their full effect.  He said, “I really don’t like to do designs or creations that are complicated or esoteric… I like to do things where the aesthetic impact is direct, as in a non-objective painting, sunsets or instrumental music.” (2)  Moulthrop died in 2003.

1. Biographical material developed from the following Sources include: Catherine Fox, “Moulthrop’s bowls get to root of nature’s beauty,” The Atlanta Journal, Sunday, May 6, 1984, pp. 1-H and 7-H; Ian Keown, “Turner Classics,” Worth Magazine, December/January 2001, pp. 163-166; Helen S. Smith, “Finding an Inner Beauty,” The Atlanta Constitution, Tuesday, September 4, 1979, pp. 1-B and 5-B
2. Quoted in Smith, p. 1-B.
Submitted by the Staff of the Columbus Museum

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