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Don't Knock Wood



A Play on Wood
Mark Sfirri <br/>American, 1952- <br/><em>Rejects from the Bat Factory</em>, 1993 <br/>Ash, mahogany <br/>Minneapolis Institute of Arts <br/>Gift of various donors, by exchange <br/>©Mark Sfirri
  Mark Sfirri
American, 1952-
Rejects from the Bat Factory, 1993
Ash, mahogany
Minneapolis Institute of Arts
Gift of various donors, by exchange
©Mark Sfirri

 

Mark Sfirri
American, 1952-
Rejects from the Bat Factory, 1993
Ash, mahogany
Minneapolis Institute of Arts
Gift of various donors, by exchange
©Mark Sfirri

What do you notice first about these five bats? Why do you think the artist decided to make what he calls "rejects"?

Artist Mark Sfirri?s wood art is characterized by a sense of humor and whimsy. In Rejects from the Bat Factory, he plays with a symbol of the great American pastime, the baseball bat. He created the "rejects" from ash, just as real baseball bats are, and burned in the title, artist's logo, and the reason for each bat's rejection, such as CURVED, OVER TEMPERED, and SEMI-PROFESSIONAL. Some of these terms are used in the game of baseball itself.

Sfirri works with a technique called woodturning; he rotates the wood on a lathe while holding the tool that shapes the wood stationary. He uses a particular approach, called multi-axis woodturning, to make traditional wood objects such as bowls and spindles into sculptures. He uses a lathe to manipulate the wood using multi-axis spindles and a series of crosscuts.

To envision how a final product will look with various axes, Sfirri sometimes sketches his ideas on paper, cuts the sketch in pieces, and then repositions them. He more often makes what he calls "3-D sketches," actual wooden objects turned on his lathe, to get an even better idea of how the final artwork could turn out. Click here to see a YouTube video of Sfirri in action.

Sfirri started creating "Rejects" in 1992. His 5-year-old son, Sam, asked him to turn a bat that had a hollow in the barrel end of it like one he had just seen on television during a Philadelphia Phillies game. Sfirri made the bat, and Sam happily went off to play with it. Sfirri was inspired to take the idea further. He explains: "I thought about how it was such an elegant form, so perfectly proportioned as a purely functional object. I then thought that I could take some of my multi-axis turned elements and superimpose them on this readily recognizable blank canvas." (Conversations with Wood: The Collection of Ruth and David Waterbury. Minneapolis Institute of Arts, 2011.) By "canvas" he meant the recognizable form of the baseball bat. The multi axes are visible in the twists and shifting positions in this sculpture.

Look at the humorous bats again to see where you think Sfirri repositioned each bat during the wood-turning process.


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1. This intricate wooden cricket cage is one of many objects at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts made to support a centuries-old competitive cricket (yes, the insect!) culture in China. Other objects include cricket ticklers, nets, fighting rings, feeding dishes, incubators, traps, sleeping containers, and carriers. China, Cricket Cage, date unknown, wood, metal, ivory, Minneapolis Institute of Arts, Gift of Michele and David Dewey
2. John Bradstreet, a designer, trendsetter, and one of 25 founding members of the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, made this card table using his own variation of the Japanese jin-di-sugi technique for aging cypress. He chemically treated the wood and then carved decorative patterns into the surface. John S. Bradstreet, Card Table, c. 1904, cypress wood, Minneapolis Institute of Arts, Gift of funds from Wheaton Wood, by exchange
3. Every seven years, puppeteers from the Ibibio Peoples' Ekong Society in Nigeria used wooden puppets like this one in playful, but satirical, performances to reveal and denounce quarrels, shortcomings, and rivalries in the community. Nigeria, Ibibio, Figure, c. 1920, wood, cloth, plant fiber, pigment traces, Minneapolis Institute of Arts, Gift of Ralph and Grace Green

 

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March 2012