Art and design projects. With stories about the people, places and experiences that have shaped my

Monday, September 12, 2016

A New Bronze and Cherry Coffee Table / Bench

This is a coffee table / bench design that I have recently completed. It's made of American cherry wood with a sculptural bronze leg at one end. I have introduced a great deal of textural balance to give the piece extra interest. For instance, the underside of the 4 1/4" thick top has bold tactile passages that transition from rough-carved to very smooth. (The rough looking parts, however, are extremely smooth to the touch).

The light-colored outer 'sap' wood of the log has been removed in the carving process. This exposes the darker colored, more beautiful 'heartwood' seen here. Also all wood has been hand-oiled multiple times. Each coat was wet-sanded with an extremely fine abrasive. Then several coats of wax were hand applied and rubbed for a very handsome and protective finish. It feels silky-smooth to the touch.

The 'flying buttress' style bronze leg has a hand-applied dark brown patina which has also been polished and waxed to a high degree of finish.

The overall dimensions are: Height 18 1/2", Length 90 1/2", Depth 26"

The cherry wood leg tapers from top to bottom. It is fastened to the top with a full-length sliding dovetail joint. A long, curved wood brace adds additional strength as it echos the bronze curve element in the leg (see detail below).

The flying buttress dark bronze leg, shown here at the far end, provides continuity of design between contrasting leg materials.


How things like this get made:

Carving all of the sap wood off with an electric chain saw in May of 2016. This process exposes the harder and darker heart wood underneath. Shown up side down on rolling horses. The original cherry slab was 6 inches thick and quite a bit wider than it is now. I had been air-drying the slab for over 15 years; waiting for this moment to address it.

Step 2: Surfacing both sides of the slab. This gets both sides flat and parallel. And the thickness became reduced from 6 to 4 1/4 inches. In all, about 100 pounds of material was removed by the time this jointing and planing work was complete.

The whole process is not at all like the popular image of, say, Brancusi - whom we see in vintage photos wearing a clean white smock standing next to his pristine and exquisitely polished bronze sculpture 'Bird in Space.' Reality is a little different. Creating sculptural objects in any medium is usually pretty noisy, dusty and messy, just like his Paris shop was most of the time in the 1920s. 

So, how do these pieces really get made? Every medium - clay, plaster, metal, wood - has a different set of procedures. In the end it boils down to this: You have to really want to make something and have faith that it will turn out well... The desire to build has to be in your blood.
Selected Public Collections
Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY.
Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond, VA.
Museum of Contemporary Art, San Diego, CA.
University of Massachusetts, Amherst, MA.
Bruce Museum, Greenwich, CT.

Education and Training
1995 Bard Graduate Center: Decorative Arts, Design History, Material Culture; Ancient Furniture.
1975-78 Studio assistant to Robert Motherwell.
1972-73 Apprentice to Wendell Castle under a Lewis Comfort Tiffany Foundation Grant.
1970-72 Rochester Institute of Technology, Rochester, NY, School for American Craftsmen.

Bronze fabrication courtesy of 21 Bridge Design LLC:

Also hearty thanks go to Bryon Jurs #wendellcastle for invaluable finishing tips on how to treat this textured piece and Joe Tracy of Mt. Desert Maine for continued technical support in all areas over many decades.

Copyright John E. Scofield 2016

Friday, May 27, 2016

Book Review, Article and Interview

'Provincetown Arts' annual issue 2016 / 2017
The 2016 issue of Provincetown Arts Magazine has a review of my book on Robert Motherwell in it. I'm delighted that it was written by Chris Busa, founder of the magazine and a long-time friend. This makes the review especially poignant and gratifying for me. Chris knew Motherwell a great deal longer than I did. Chris' dad was painter Peter Busa, long recognized as one of the original abstract crowd in the '40s and '50s. Here is what Chris said:

"John Scofield’s recent book, Robert Motherwell:
In the Studio (Bernard Jacobson Gallery,
London), bubbles with the ├ęclat of seasoned
wisdom. The wraparound jacket photograph
features Scofield watching as Motherwell
puts a stroke on the enormous Reconciliation
Elegy, spread out on the floor, a thirty-onefoot-
long and ten-foot-high commission
for the East Wing of the National Gallery in
Washington, DC. Scofield, an artist, craftsman,
and landscape designer, was Robert
Motherwell’s studio assistant and confidant
for three years in the late seventies,
working daily with the artist in his array of
studios in Greenwich, Connecticut. Motherwell,
moving out of New York, purchased a
section of a large estate, where he converted
the top floors of the horse stables into living
and dining quarters while the bottom floors
were adapted to provide an industrial space
for the production of art—studios for major
paintings, collages, printmaking, and
frame-making. Scofield worked in the
Greenwich studios, then began coming
to assist Motherwell in Provincetown,
where he joined the Provincetown club
the Beachcombers, loving the artistic
“informality,” in which the primitive
and the elegant seemed to coexist."

Thanks Chris.

L-R: John E. Scofield, Laila Pedro at the Kasmin Gallery, NYC, 4 May 2016.

People sometimes ask if I learned about color from Bob Motherwell. Perhaps. But I think it was just as much discovering the excitement of working with color. Just being around it is what counts. Above: his 1978 untitled print; pink and black chine colle. Printed by master lithographer Bob Bigelow.

L-R: John Scofield, Laila Pedro, Bernard Jacobson at the Andrea Rosen Gallery, NYC.
The June 2016 issue of the arts and literature magazine Brooklyn Rail contains an interview conducted by BR Managing Editor Laila Pedro. She interviewed me on my '70s memoir, Robert Motherwell: In the Studio. We met in Chelsea, NYC, at the Kasmin gallery's show on Motherwell collages. Laila Pedro thought that it would be a good place to hold the interview as it had the right atmosphere. And she was right!

The photo of us above, bottom, was taken in May of 2015 at the Andrea Rosen Gallery. My book was published in 2015 by the London-based Bernard Jacobson Gallery.


A blog site called Unlocking Litchfield recently ran a very nice visit with us titled, 'At Home with John Scofield.' They began their story by saying: John Scofield is and artist and designer living in Sharon, CT with his wife Bartley Johnstone, and their daughter, Evie. John’s folding music stand is in the permanent design collection of the Museum of Modern Art, New York. 

You can find their photos and interview at:

Here are some of the lovely photos taken by Lora Warnick. The well-written story is by Beverley Canepari.

Bartley and I are standing in front of a large painting
on paper titled 'Her Moods.' This is a cartoon for a
glass top coffee table named after a line in a poem by
WH Auden.
A triptych of paintings on paper in the flat-file cabinet.
S. Marie Novella silverchest / humidor with the
mahogany lid raised. The cast bronze base has a
patina based on the stone arches of S. Maria Novella
in Florence.
Sculptural toys that Evie and I make in the shop. This one spins on the purple
nail. We make a lot of things like this together. 
My 'Folding Music Stand,' 1971. Behind it is a painting
on paper for the 'Bruno Chair.' Bruno is my son's
middle name. This music stand is in the collections at MoMA
And the Museum of Contemporary Art, San Diego.
A companion to the Folding Music Stand is this 'Music Chair'
made in 2011. To its right is a small carved and painted
table with a maple top. Above is a painting on paper for
furniture called the 'Klismos Chair.'

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

New Paintings 2016

Please see this very nice interview 'At Home with John Scofield,' posted by 'Unlocking Litchfield.' It shows how as a family we display and otherwise live with art and design features at home. I am also interviewed on the subject of my new book, apprenticeships and the art world 'fast-lane' of the '70s.

Paintings on canvas, paper and panel completed in late 2015 and 2016:

Triptych on paper. Each 15" x 12".

Winter light in studio, February 2016.

'Biak I' 2016, acrylics on panel, 16" x 12"

Detail of 'Biak I'

'Biak II' 2016, acrylics on panel, 16" x 12"

Detail of 'Biak II'

'Orange and Green Table, 2016
'Orange and Green Table' is a painted sketch on paper for a dining table or desk. I have been making sketches like this for furniture designs since the early '70s.

'Shunde Dancers I'

'Shunde Dancers II'
'Shunde Dancers' I and II are both photo collages with acrylic paint on panel. Dimensions are H. 16" x W. 12" x D. 1". Signed: JES - '16

In 2010 I was a panelist at a furniture design conference in Shunde, Southern China. That's where I took these photographs of traditional Chinese dancers. Our host, owner of a 2M square foot furniture showroom, put fifteen of us on CCTV to discuss the importance of creating original designs as opposed to copying. During a quite lavish lunch break my table happened to be closest to the dancers. Behind them was a huge LED screen upon which multiple images of the dancers were projected. Our interpreter said that these stunning multi-color costumes were authentic and quite valuable.

'Scott, AR Ag'
'Scott, AR Ag' is a 2015 photo collage with acrylic paint on canvas. Dimensions are H. 16" x W. 12" x D. 1". 

In 2008 I took this photo of a unique, sheet metal agricultural building located in Scott, Arkansas; about one half hour south of Little Rock. The numerous small concrete piers holding it up are truncated pyramids, not cylinders as is common today. They each had to be separately formed during construction; a detail I found interesting and in keeping with the overall design of the structure.

'Orange Willows'
'Orange Willows' is based on a 2015 photo of an overgrown paddock in Sharon, CT. It is a 24" x 18" photo collage with acrylic colors on canvas. The striking orange and yellow branches created a subtle band of color across an otherwise drab winter landscape. I have been looking at this field for years but never saw the colors as bright as this until last December.

I like to use glazes and under-painting to create interest and depth. The trick is to balance the upper photograph with the painting below in a harmonious combination. At my age I am no longer interested in unstructured or gratuitously shocking subjects or so-called political art.

An architect friend of mine, Jim Walden, studied with Louis Kahn at Penn. I'll never forget when Jim said to his irreverent, activist, son who had been working for the Marxist conceptual artist Joseph Kosuth, "You don't have to show me how bad the world is through your art. I know how bad the world is..!"

'City Hotel Landscape'

'City Hotel Landscape' of 2016 is a picture that was started two years ago. It depicts the somewhat infamous City Hotel in Freetown, Sierra Leone, West Africa. The place is described in some detail in Graham Green's first novel The Heart of the Matter written during WWII. Freetown was strategically important during the war as it is the largest natural port in West Africa.

In 1974 I was a Peace Corps volunteer there. On various occasions I would be standing at the City Hotel bar having a beer British-style; no bar stools. Once I happened to be chatting with a couple of Russian sailors standing to my left. They were saying how ships that were tied up at the Queen Elizabeth Quay were often vandalized by thieves at night:  "They will even pull the nails out of a wooden deck." After a few minutes one of the sailors turned sideways a little. They had sub-machine guns strapped on their backs.

 Very little had changed since the '40s. Teen-age Liberian prostitutes would sit on the front porch sipping drinks with no booze in them while waiting for customers. One day I was sitting there at a table next to them making a few watercolor sketches. That's when I took this photo of a dog on the front steps of the hotel. The Tri-X 400 ASA black and white negative then sat in a cardboard box for the next forty years. I occasionally reviewed the image on a proof sheet - kept it in the back of my mind. But until recently I had no use for any of them so they remained unprinted until now. 

Lower painted bands are from my memory of the landscape there - at once tragic, dangerous and beautiful - but stacked up and shuffled in the manner of our dreams.

Acrylic colors on photo paper. Lower portion cut and assembled collage. H. 11 1/2" x W. 9 1/2".

'Three Ausable Trout'

'Three Ausable Trout' is a photo collage with acrylic colors on canvas, 2016.
H. 24 " x W. 18" They were caught in late August with weighted nymph flies on the west branch of the Ausable River in the Adirondacks. This river flows north. The upper and lower fish shown here are brook trout. The center one is a rainbow. Photographed on the tailgate of my Ford pick-up truck; parked under a grove of tall, cool hemlocks.

'Pond Ice'

'Pond Ice' is an acrylic  painting on Arches Heavyweight paper. H. 15" x W. 11 1/4". Ice on a pond is more gentle than the shifting, cracking and moaning of thick lake ice. My daughter likes to test the thickness of pond ice by hitting it with a stick. 

'Aus. Trout'
This title, 'Aus. Trout,' is short for Ausable. Photo collage on board with acrylic paints. H. 9 1/2" x 10 3/4" x 1/2". 

'Figures in Landscape'

'Figures in Landscape' is a 2015 painting on paper that was revised and completed in 2016. Dimensions are H. 11 1/4" x 15". See a large outdoor version of this in sculptural form at the end of this post.

'Figures in a Landscape'
'Figures in a Landscape' has something that is, for me, a new feature. The upper image is a photo of a previous painting on paper, enlarged from the original. Yes, the 'painting' is a photo of a painting... The lower area is paint. A little odd; this reversal. 
H. 9 1/2" x W. 10 3/4" x D. 1/2". 

'Figures in Landscape' H. 7' x W. 12', carved poplar. These are wooden forms that could be cast in bronze, concrete, fiberglass etc. to create a curved or straight relief screen - or solid wall. For use in interior or exterior installations.
Scale: The sixteen wood pieces,'figures,' are leaning against a standard horse paddock fence.

All paintings, sculptures, designs and photographs or photos used in paintings are Copyright John E. Scofield 2016