Joe Seltzer Chosen as CWA Lifetime Achievement Award Recipient for 2014

It is hard to know if Joe Seltzer really has the largest wood art collection in the world. There may be a very private someone, someplace who owns more than 900 pieces. Seltzer does, however, have the largest collection in the most compact display space in the world.
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All of his work is neatly displayed in two plus rooms in his suburban Philadelphia, Pennsylvania home. "A few pieces are larger than six inches high, but almost everything is six inches or smaller," said Seltzer. "That's the size of work I began to buy when I started collecting and I continue to look for."

Seltzer's nearly 30 years of collecting, along with numerous contributions to the founding and continued success of the Collectors of Wood Art, has earned him the organization's 2014 Lifetime Achievement Award. He is the 14th winner of the award, which will be presented when the organization gathers at SOFA Chicago in early November.

He bought his first piece in 1985. In 1989 he joined a local chapter of the American Association of Woodturners and began turning small objects, which he continues to do.

In November of 1997, he was one of 100 or so individuals invited to Little Rock, Arkansas, by wood artist Robyn Horn to discuss the possible formation of a wood art collectors group.

"That was a great weekend meeting so many people with the same passion for collecting I had," he said. "We were having a discussion and so many great ideas were being thrown around. I noticed no one was taking notes. So I began to write down all these ideas. When I got back home I organized all the notes and send out a mass e-mail to everyone who had attended. That e-mail became a document on which the CWA mission statement is based. So I feel like I made a major contribution to getting things started."

When CWA became an official organization in 1998, Seltzer was the group's first secretary. He has since been president, vice president, served on the board of directors for 12 years, and organized successful forums in Philadelphia and Minneapolis. He has also been a judge for the CWA Excellence in Wood Award given at the American Craft Council's flagship show in Baltimore. "Joe has made an extremely positive impact on the field through his collecting," said CWA president Judy Chernoff. "He has a vast knowledge of both wood and wood art. He supports the field through self-education and educating others, and he willingly takes on tasks as needed in CWA. People respect Joe and value his opinion."

Seltzer, 65, has been a professor of management at LaSalle University in Philadelphia for 39 years. He and wife, Margie, have been married for 43 years. They have two children. David 34 and Beth, 29. A native of Pittsburgh, Seltzer earned a bachelors from Carnegie-Mellon University in administration and management science and a Masters and PhD from the University of Pittsburgh in Organizational Behavior.

"Margie and I have always been craft people," he said. "Fortunately we live in a part of the country where there are a lot of top quality weekend shows. So when we were first married back in the 70s we'd attend a lot of shows looking for things for the house. I'd see some bowls and turned stuff at shows - some good and some really bad. The first piece I bought was by a local Philly artist named Tom Dinsmore in 1985. Someone at one of the shows had a catalog of the Jacobson bowl show which was touring the country. I had never seen stuff like that and wanted to see the show."

The Jacobson Collection was an exhibit of 90 bowls from 21 makers put together by Phoenix businessman Edward Jacobson. The collection was on display at the Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian Institute in Washington D.C. from April to September of 1986. "We went to Washington to see the collection. I had never seen such cool stuff," said Seltzer. "Some pieces by Del Stubbs especially blew me away. I was hooked on collecting wood art and still am."

Seltzer's collecting took a major step forward in 1988 when he met Albert LeCoff, the 2003 winner of the CWA Lifetime Achievement Award. LeCoff and his brother, Alan, are considered two of founders of the studio wood art movement. They held the first national woodturning symposium in 1976 and put on exhibitions of national artists at various Philadelphia venues from 1976-86. Those exhibitions and pieces Albert collected were the basis for The Wood Turning Center (now The Center For Art in Wood) which he co-founded.

Seltzer read a story in the Philadelphia Inquirer about LeCoff's adventures in wood, called him up and ask if he could come over and see his collection. Rude Osolnik, a nationally known turner, was also visiting when Seltzer arrived at the LeCoff home. "Joe thought he might get five minutes to visit with Rude. I had another appointment and had to leave," said Albert. "I think he and Rude talked for a couple of hours before I got back. Joe ended up buying a vessel of Macasar ebony from Rude."

"When we would have artists coming into town for something," Albert continues, "Joe was always there to help out however he could and learn as much as he could from the artists. Joe was instrumental in getting the Wood Turning Center started. He was teaching at the Nonprofit Business Center at LaSalle and developed the initial business plan we used to start the center. All he wanted in exchange was a Bob Stocksdale bowl. Joe is well deserving of this award. We applaud him for early and heartfelt entry into the wood art field, his encyclopedic knowledge of artists and their work he is willing to share with others and his service to both The Center and the CWA."

Seltzer is one of the few major collectors who is also a turner. One of his trademarks is having small pieces he has turned always ready to hand out to people he meets. "It's just my way of giving someone something they can remember me by," he said "I've never sold anything. If someone insists on paying me, I ask them to donate the money to CWA."

Now about that limit of no piece bigger than six inches in his collection. "We don't have a big house so I bought small work when I started collecting," he said "One time I bought a piece that was maybe 8 or 10 inches high. Margie pointed out that it didn't look right towering over the other work. She was right as usual. So I decided to stay with the smalls."
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by Dave Long