story by Tamara Moan
photo by Oliver Kooning
A forest of sculptures stands in Ron Kent’s Kailua, O‘ahu, woodshop. Some are barrel-chested, others slender and feminine, tapering to a slim, fluted neck. Some lie rough-hewn on the shop’s cement floor. Others, nearly finished, await the last layers of varnish, standing with their necks in nooses, roped to the ceiling for support. Ron calls these mysterious and arresting forms “Guardians.”
Ron became famous for his turned bowls of Norfolk or Cook’s pine, their walls so thin and translucent they seemed to glow with an inner light. His bowls are in the permanent collections at the Smithsonian, the Louvre, the White House and the Vatican. He is one of the few living artists with work in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Searching for an alternative to lathe work and the heavy pieces that had begun to tax his hands, Ron turned to larger pieces that he could create with hand-held tools. He likes the impact of the scale and the challenge of working with different forms.
“Forty years of lathe work got me very used to circular symmetry,” he says.
“I wanted to get away from that.”
Ron works in swim trunks and rubber slippers, stereo blaring. First, he cuts a rough pattern from marine plywood. “I like the brazenness of the bigger, thicker layers,” he says. “And plywood has a waviness to it that finer wood doesn’t.” He then laminates layers of plywood and slowly refines the shapes using a grinder and sander. The final pieces are smooth and stand elegantly on narrow bases. Galleries in Cleveland, Laguna Beach and Santa Fe currently carry Guardians.
In Hawai‘i, they can be seen at Genesis Gallery in Waikoloa. HH