GAMBIER — Wood has been a source of strength for the Knox County community since pioneer days, and the many ways it has been used, from agriculture to art, will be explored in a Kenyon College discussion called “Working in Wood.”
A panel of wood aficionados will look at the role of wood in agriculture and the arts Tuesday, March 27, at 11:10 a.m. at the Peirce Hall Lounge, 201 College-Park St. The public is invited to attend and join the discussion.
“Wood has been important to Knox County since pioneer days. Settlers had to first clear timber to create agricultural land, and sawmills soon arose to make wood for construction,” said Howard L. Sacks, professor of sociology and director of the Kenyon Rural Life Center, which presents the panel. “The barns and agricultural buildings themselves tell a story about both the natural and social history of this community. And wood is a way to engage our community, whether you’re talking about barn restoration or about wood carvers who are inspired by the social and cultural life around them.”
The panel includes Knox County residents Pamela Whitney Gray, known as the Barn Consultant; Kenyon Professor of Art Barry Gunderson, a sculptor who often works in wood; and Gene Schnebly, a wood carver.
Gray, who inherited the mantle of Barn Consultant from her father, the late Chuck Whitney, helps barn owners — many of them newcomers to rural life — assess the historical value and structural integrity of barns. Barns “tell the story of agriculture in our area,” she said. “Depending on how the barn was built, you can determine what the origins of the settlers were. And these barns were built with wood within a radius of a mile, so the wood itself is a record of what grew in the area.”
The old barns are paying a price for the fading of family farms and negligence and deterioration. “We’re losing them,” Gray said. “It is a terrible loss.”
Gunderson, widely known for large, public sculptures in aluminum, is fond of working with wood, including pine, birch and poplar, on a smaller scale. He makes little distinction between his fine art and folk art. He will share work from his “Dirt Series” that has “allowed me to explore color, shape and texture while thinking of the tenuous existence of the small family farm.”
Schnebly has carved horse- and mule-drawn wooden wagons to 1/16th scale, recalling the wagons used by the grandfather who reared him. “He’s sitting on the seat, driving the mules” in one carving, he said. “I wanted to be reminded of the things he did and what he did. We were pretty close. ” Schnebly works with quaking aspen, oak and walnut.
Wood carving, he said, comes naturally to him. “I didn’t know I could do it till I tried,” he said. “On my mother’s side, all of my uncles were carpenters. When I was a kid and in high school, I used to help build the barns.”
The panel discussion will be hosted by Judy Sacks, an affiliated scholar in American studies at Kenyon and the recipient of an Ohio Arts Council Heritage Fellowship for community leadership.
“Working in Wood” is part of a series of public forums, called Visits, planned by the Rural Life Center. Each session of Visits focuses on an issue important to local culture and lifestyle and includes a panel discussion with local experts. The program that follows is “Aging in the Country,” on April 17. To learn more about Visits, call the Rural Life Center, 740-427-5850.
Published on March 19, 2012