Ingrained Excellence: Shuler Wins for Wood at Smithsonian

By Leslie Sevcik, Lynda Smith-Bugge, and Judy Chernoff
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The Collectors of Wood Art once again served as sponsors of the Excellence in Wood Award at this year's 35th Anniversary Smithsonian Craft Show. Thirty-year veteran wood turner Mike Shuler was selected as the winner from a field of eight wood artists. 

Shuler is well known to collectors both in America and overseas for his line of segmented lathe-turned open vessels. Mike's pieces can be found in many museums from the Louvre to the Museums of Fine Art in Houston and Boston, the Smithsonian American Art Museum/Renwick Gallery, and the Yale University Gallery of Art.

Additionally, he is a frequent exhibitor at fine craft shows coast to coast. He was last year's winner for Wood at the American Craft Exposition in Illinois and has won the award at the Smithsonian Craft Show before as well.

Mike became interested in working with wood as a child and is a largely self-taught artist. He works with primarily exotic species for his signature line of segmented vessels, which are precisely cut and reassembled from thousands of tiny pieces into exquisite large and small bowls. He uses no pigments, stains, or dyes; instead, he seeks to showcase the movement and beauty of each species in its true state. The resulting works are glowing, gleaming specimens of the innate beauty in wood. They are meticulously displayed and lit. Within a vessel, the natural gradations of the materials are showcased, creating life, movement and quiet joy.

As if that weren't enough, Mike has developed a second line of "Organica," taking the woody cores from organic materials and marrying them with resin to create vessels that make the materials even more beautiful than they were in their natural state. At the Smithsonian Craft Show, one could find vessels made from, among other things, pinecones, bananas, and artichokes. An especially striking example this year was a vessel created from a large chakka or jackfruit, a species of tree in the fig, mulberry, and breadfruit family and native to southeast Asia.

The other participants in this year's show included long-established wood artists as well as newer artists to the scene. Your judges were impressed with the ongoing superior artistry of Norm Sartorius and his divine and complex wooden spoons, and by the intriguing work of newcomer to Smithsonian, Ben Strear, who chip carves the surfaces of bowls and vessels creating small intricate patterns with an overall basketlike surface. Other exhibiting artists were Yelena Synkova and Sean Cummings (simple vessels with intricate surface drawn architectural patterns), Christopher Wagner (folk art inspired wood sculpture using reclaimed materials and paint), Steven Potts (vessels with mineral lids), Tim Arnold (Shaker boxes) and Mark and Sharon Diebolt (fine handbags with wood veneers).

Volunteer judges representing CWA in this year's selection for Excellence in Wood at the Smithsonian Craft Show were collector Leslie Sevcik, artist Lynda Smith-Bugge, and collector and past president of CWA Dr. Judith Chernoff. Please join us in congratulating our winner, Mike Shuler.