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Dancing With Trees: Wood Sculpture by Joe Haviland at the Rawlings Conservatory

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Visiting an artist’s studio is a special, and often sacred, act. Visiting an artist’s studio after they are deceased feels even more precious and vital, as if the objects created during their lifetime are now activated, a lifeline to a creative individual that would be otherwise lost.

This thinking was central in planning Dancing With Trees, the first major posthumous retrospective for wood sculptor and painter Joe Haviland (1952-2020), a Baltimore presence for many decades. Hosted at the Howard Peters Rawlings Conservatory & Botanic Gardens in Baltimore, this exhibit has been an opportunity for the public to engage with Haviland’s rich oeuvre, where wooden carvings mimic the natural forms that inspired them and abstract paintings forge a connection between nature, human figure, and a vision where a life force is present consistently in all forms.

On exhibit since January 29, the retrospective of thirty-five large carved wooden sculptures and six  paintings will close with a public reception on Sunday, February 19, 2023 from 4-5:30 pm.

 

During a five decade-long career, Haviland was known for creating monumental and rough-hewn forms, created using chainsaws, as well as hammers and chisels. He began working this way in the 1970s and continued for five decades to developing a variety of skilled carving techniques, and finding inspiration in modern and ancient art history.

Haviland did not cut down trees to make these signature works. Rather, he used fallen trees or large pruned limbs. Like Michelangelo, Haviland tasked himself with finding an inner shape that the material revealed to him, rather than imposing his own ideas upon the forms. “My inspiration comes from the wood itself,” he said. “Often, I will look at it for a long time before beginning to carve. I tend to let the piece dictate where it goes, what stays, and what gets taken away.”

In 1983, Baltimore Sun art critic Glenn McNatt wrote that, “Haviland’s pieces emphasize the shapes and textures of the logs from which they are carved, and their polished surfaces are a metaphor for the beauty of the life force which once animated the living wood.”

This exhibit, organized by his wife, Helene Haviland, and his sister, Margaret Haviland Stansbury, author of Glass House of Dreams, a book about the Conservatory, is an unprecedented look into a dynamic life of art making, and it’s comprehensive range within this environmental context, literally a space for biological variety and life was an inspired choice, and deepens the artist’s reverence for nature.

In recognizing the significance of this exhibit, we sent photographer Jill Fannon to visit Haviland’s studio in northern Baltimore County, and then the Rawlings Conservatory in Druid Hill Park to capture the essence of the exhibit as well as the presence of those who loved him.

 

Closing Reception and Art Pick-Up: Sunday, February 19, 2023, 4 – 5:30 p.m.
Viewing hours at the Conservatory are Thursday and Friday, 11am to 3pm, Saturday and Sunday 11am to 4pm.
Admission is free; however, a donation of $5 for support of the Conservatory is much appreciated.
COVID 19 protocols will be followed.

 

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