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Cummings: Wood Pile Art

09/12/12 7:55AM By Dede Cummings
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(Host) Commentator Dede Cummings is a writer and book designer with a special affinity for things that are both beautiful and practical - like the unusual woodpile sculpture she ran across this summer.

(Cummings) Cutting and splitting wood for heat is a Vermont rite of passage. It requires skill and knowledge, and the use of potentially lethal tools. Trees that are dead or dying, or crowding out a planned forest acreage, are selected for thinning and destined for the wood lot. Once the wood is split, it's thrown into a pile; once that pile is big enough, a cord is formed, and it can be left to air dry until it's time to stack.

 John Gerding is an artist and jack-of-all-trades in Wilmington. And like many Vermonters, he has - as he puts it - lots of "irons in the fire." He grooms cross country ski trails, works as a welder, and is renovating their old house. "I can do anything, except make money at it," he laughs.

John and his wife, glassblower Jen Violette, burn wood for heat - so every summer they get a load of wood that has to be stacked. Some time back, John got tired of stacking wood in the straightforward shape of the standard cord and he began to create variations on the theme. Jon and Jen live on a dead-end road, and people started to drive by just to take pictures of the playful stacks John created.

Photo: Kelly Fletcher
Detail from Rings by John Gerding,

Then last March, the Brattleboro Museum & Art Center decided to present an exhibit with the central theme of the tree as metaphor and John was invited to participate. The exhibit itself has come and gone, but John's installation is still there and can be seen for a few more weeks.

John's friend, Peter Boisvert, is a logger, and John asked him to keep an eye out for hollow logs. Peter and his son found some of yellow birch down in Jacksonville, and one afternoon, they surprised John by dropping them off at his house. John, in turn, delivered almost four cords of wood to the museum.

John likes making curves out of the wood, and he likes a challenge. For his sculpture with the simple title of "Ring," John stacked three hollow logs on top of each other, and surrounded them with a circular arrangement of four feet of stacked wood in which he created a small window. While he was working on the woodpile, people kept coming by to watch. Some thanked him. Others were less enthusiastic." I bet you're gonna make something entirely useless" was one skeptical comment.

Photo: Kelly Fletcher
John Gerding assembling Rings at the Brattleboro Museum & Art Center

Gerding is philosophical about his intricate woodstacks. He says, "Taking mundane yet necessary tasks and adding an artistic element is something we all do, whether we realize it or not. It makes [the task] bearable, more interesting."

In Gerding's capable and talented hands, the iconic Vermont woodpile acquires an artistic sensibility. He gives it a whimsicality of spirit that echoes the way art, patterns and symmetry in nature, along with basic shape and line, contribute to the way we live and bring us joy in the process of creating.

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