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Museum Hits Milestone With '40 Under 40'

"China Tree" made of Chinese porcelain soy sauce pots by artist Joey Foster Ellis. ( VOA/C.Premoshis)

"China Tree" made of Chinese porcelain soy sauce pots by artist Joey Foster Ellis. ( VOA/C.Premoshis)

The Smithsonian American Art Museum’s Renwick Gallery in Washington, D.C. is celebrating its 40th anniversary with a display by 40 artists under the age of 40.

The show includes works in many media, from glass and ceramics to non-traditional materials such as yarn and light bulbs.

Matt Moulthrop, a third generation artist, works with wood.

"Wood is a material that has a very natural element to it, and it's a revelation process because there's beauty hidden within that," he said.

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His father, Philip Moulthrop, is a famous woodturner, meaning he turns wood on a lathe. His grandfather Edward is also famous.

Matt's intense immersion in that environment inspired him to follow in their footsteps.

“This was something that I never thought I could make a living at it, and they encouraged me to try and I took a leap and I’ve been very fortunate,” Moulthrop said. "Hopefully, I'm measuring and building up to a lot of what was taught to me."

Artist Matt Moulthrop in his Georgia studio. (Photo by Laura Noel)

Artist Matt Moulthrop in his Georgia studio. (Photo by Laura Noel)

Clearly he has, given that one of Moulthrop's pieces, a vessel made of red maple, which is abundant in his home state of Georgia, is now in the Smithsonian American Art Museum's Renwick Gallery show.

"The object of the piece was to turn the ordinary into something that is extraordinary," he said.

Nicholas Bell, who curated the exhibit to celebrate the Renwick's 40th anniversary, wanted to look to the future instead of the past.

“The number one criteria, besides age, was that things be good," he said. "You look for those things that pop out at you, that really grab you, and that give you a gut reaction.”

Moulthrop's piece was one of them. He's following in the footsteps of his father and grandfather, who've also shown at the Renwick.

“When I was looking at what was happening in wood art, I first went to Matt Moulthrop, because he is just as good as his father and his grandfather," Bell said. "But he’s doing things a little bit differently. He’s approaching the wood in a little bit of a different way, he’s finishing it differently, and his work is distinct from that of his father and grandfather.”

In addition to Moulthrop's piece, Bell chose other pieces which are diverse, thought-provoking and give the exhibit an intimate and interactive feel.

“We have everything 18-foot-tall [5.4 meters] paper installation, to a tree made from Chinese porcelain soy sauce pots, to an entire shack made out of barn wood, to a room that you can go in and be enlightened literally by a wonderful light installation," Bell said. "We tried to do everything here.”

There's also a room where furniture and real, moving human figures are covered in crocheted acrylic yarn.

“What I want people to take away from this, is that craft is an incredibly broad field with a lot of energy," Bell said, "and that all sorts of different things are happening. It’s not just going to the museum and seeing something on a pedestal.”

Malthrop feels honored to be included in the display.

“I’m very excited about this induction and being part of this group and this exhibit,” he said.

He hopes his children will follow in his footsteps to become the fourth generation of Moulthrop woodturners.