About the Exhibition

Logo of Tree to FormTree to Form presents wood as a medium of creative expression by exploring:

  • the nature of wood – the distinctive qualities of different species and where they originate;
  • woodworking techniques such as turning, carving, burning and painting, and;
  • the artist’s inspiration and creative process – such as problem-solving, engineering, and the dialog between the artist and the unique “living” material he/she works with.

This page will introduce you to these concepts and how they relate to the artwork on display.

As with all Artmobile exhibitions, Tree to Form features strong educational and interactive components. Our professional educator meets each class and engages students in a dialogue geared to their grade level.  Students encounter a multisensory experience as our educator demonstrates wood turning on a lathe installed in the trailer. An important new element this year is the incorporation of technology to reach and teach today’s youth. Through the use of iPads located throughout the exhibit, students will have the option to select among a variety of videos and activities that reinforce and expand on concepts presented by our educator. Finally there are a variety of wood objects and hands-on displays, such as a wooden model of a lathe, for students to handle and investigate.


Since wood is the universal ingredient in this exhibition it would be important to consider the life cycle, the structure and the idiosyncratic nature of trees, as well as how wood as a medium is defined by these characteristics. 

Image of cross-section of tree trunk

Unlike most raw materials, wood is harvested from living plants made up of long fibrous vessels, organized in bundles oriented vertically throughout the tree’s trunk that transport moisture and nutrients to the leaves. Each year the trunk grows by adding an additional layer to its exterior surface. This growth is known as a growth ring and can easily be seen in a cross sectional slice of the trunk, each growth ring has both early growth in which the fibrous vessels are broader and further apart and late or winter growth in which the fibers are narrower and closer together. The growth rings on the interior of the trunk become harder as the tree grows older which makes the trunk stronger and better able to support the ever increasing canopy of branches and leaves.

When wood is cut or sliced the growth rings are exposed in various configurations that we refer to as the “grain”. Variations in the pattern of the growth rings are the result of that particular tree’s life cycle illustrating the effects of things like drought, disease or an irregular trunk angle. Even after the tree is harvested and cut into boards of wood, the fibrous structure continues to transport moisture and consequently expand and contract as a response to changes in the humidity. In the creation of each of the works in this exhibition, the artist has had to consider and respond to the potential for expansion and contraction of the material and the interplay between the character of the grain and the form of the object.


Carving and Shaping

Image of Amphora by Marcus Tatton

Image of Noble Hunter by Michelle Post

Image of Beet by Michelle Holzapfel

Turning requires a lathe that holds and spins the wood allowing the artist to remove material as the wood rotates with gouges and abrasives.

An artist may choose to find their expression employing only carving and turning techniques, or he/she may choose to combine these techniques with assemblage and/or surface decoration.

Image of Black Vessel by John Jordan

Image of Vessel by Marc Ricourt

Image of Brush Your Teeth by Hilary Pfeifer


Image of Pitch Fork Coat Rack, Brad Smith  

Image of Child's Chair by Joanne Shima

Many of the works in the exhibition are examples of assemblage which can include combining very different elements together or combining found objects with parts made of wood. The additive technique of assembling parts into a whole requires that the artist be able to visualize the final object well enough to plan-out the required parts and how they will be connected, a process that often involves a trial and error approach. 

The most technical version of assemblage in wood is termed joinery which is most often associated with furniture where the connections between parts must typically be very precise to ensure both strength and durability. Grain direction, expansion and contraction play important roles in the creation of effective joinery. Appropriate techniques assembling parts also make it possible to create large forms with minimal material.


Surface Decoration

Image of Rocking Bowl by Hans Weissflog

Naturally finished wood is beautiful and many of the pieces in this exhibition are express the artist’s ability to incorporate the characteristics of the wood into the content of the piece. 


Wood, as it turns out, is also a medium that is receptive to a variety of surface treatments that permit the artist to more specifically explore and expand the content of the piece. Wood burns and it accepts paint due to its porous surface.

Image of Charon, The Boatman by Susan Hagen

Image of Cube by George Peterson


Because it can easily be carved, textured and sanded, wood offers a wide range of possibilities for surfaces that, in turn, offer a variety of responses to paints and finishes. This range of potential makes wood an attractive choice for artists.