Furniture Maker Advocates for Wildlife Preservation in Fall Exhibition at Houston Center for Contemporary Craft

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"Wendy Maruyama: The wildLIFE Project" serves to illustrate the plight of elephants and the illegal ivory trade. Through a moving installation of life-sized objects made from exotic woods and string and shrine-like forms made from steel and glass, the show makes a compelling case for the preservation of animals in the wild.

Wendy Maruyama, “Maasai Night” and “Sonje,” 2014. Wood, string, paint. Photo courtesy the artist.

In recent years, Maruyama’s work has taken a narrative direction—integrating images and text into shrine-like cabinet forms—which adds an additional layer of sensory experience for the viewer.

Houston Center for Contemporary Craft (HCCC) is pleased to present "Wendy Maruyama: The wildLIFE Project," an exhibition that serves to illustrate the plight of elephants and the illegal ivory trade. Through a moving installation of life-sized objects made from exotic woods and string and shrine-like forms made from steel and glass, the show makes a compelling case for the preservation of animals in the wild.

Furniture maker, artist and educator Wendy Maruyama has been making innovative work for 40 years. While her early work combined ideologies of feminism and traditional craft objects, her newer work moves beyond the boundaries of traditional studio craft and into the realm of social practice. "The wildLIFE Project" focuses on the endangerment of elephants, a cause that is very personal to the artist. She recently took a sojourn to Kenya and met with wildlife advocates to investigate the dangers of the continued poaching of these magnificent animals. The trip served as a source of inspiration for the artist to create a new body of work and incorporate a strong societal message.

Maruyama captures the “trophy head of the hunt” in life-sized form in "The Wildlife Project" Her monumental objects, which represent elephant heads and trunks, are constructed from panels of wood, tied together with string. Their surfaces are finished in various earth tones, from grey to brick red, and some reach 12 feet in height. Maruyama adapts the Buddhist ritual of honoring the dead and examines the meanings of different components of the Buddhist altar or "obutsudan." In this context, the central object of reverence or worship ("Gohonzon") is the elephant—tortured, killed and driven, almost to extinction, by man. Flowers are used to represent the impermanence of this gentle and majestic animal. A candle is placed on an altar to symbolize unchanging truth. Incense is burned as an offering in an attempt to capture the spiritual state in the present moment. A wooden reliquary is made to house large hand-blown glass tusks, symbolizing the preciousness of both the elephant and the ivory for which it is sourced. (Maruyama was an artist-in-residence at Pilchuck Glass School in May, 2013, and worked with professional glass blowers for these pieces.)

In recent years, Maruyama’s work has taken a narrative direction—integrating images and text into shrine-like cabinet forms—which adds an additional layer of sensory experience for the viewer. Her “shrines” are constructed from various woods, steel and glass--raw materials that transfer emotion. Steel is immovable, permanent, and heavy; glass is fragile and opaque when stacked together. The installation further engages the viewer’s senses through the use of video, incense and a bronze bell set to ring throughout the day. All of these components help make the viewer feel like a participant in a sacred ritual.

HCCC Curator Elizabeth Kozlowski has been following Maruyama’s work for many years. She says that the artist views this body of work not only as an art project but as an advocacy tool—one that brings communities together for a common purpose. “The social-practice component of her artwork is successful in combining art, advocacy, education and community. Her work manages to pull you in with stirring visuals and keep you engaged with multiple layers of content. ”

Following its premiere at Houston Center for Contemporary Craft, "The wildLIFE Project" will travel to four venues through 2017: Center for Art in Wood (Philadelphia, PA), Feb - April 2016; Penland Gallery (Penland, NC), July - Sept, 2016; Chrysler Museum of Art (Ghent, VA), Sept 2016 - Jan 2017; and San Francisco Museum of Craft and Design (San Francisco, CA), Jan -May 2017.

"The wildLIFE Project" is made possible by generous support from the Windgate Charitable Foundation.

About the Artist
Wendy Maruyama has been a professor of woodworking and furniture design for over 30 years. She is one of the first two women to graduate with a Masters in furniture making from Rochester Institute of Technology. Maruyama has exhibited her work nationally for over four decades, with solo shows in New York City, San Francisco, Scottsdale, Indianapolis, Savannah, and Easthampton. She has exhibited internationally in Tokyo, Seoul and London. Maruyama’s work can also be found in both national and international permanent museum collections, including the Victoria and Albert Museum, London; Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery, Launceston, Australia; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; Philadelphia Museum of Art; Museum of Craft and Design, San Francisco; Mint Museum of Art, Charlotte; Fuller Craft Museum, Brockton; Mingei International Museum, San Diego; and the Oakland Museum of California.

Maruyama is a recipient of several prestigious awards, including the California Civil Liberties Public Education Grant, 2010; several National Endowment for the Arts Grants for Visual Artists; the Japan/US Fellowship; and a Fulbright Research Grant to work in the UK.

About Houston Center for Contemporary Craft
Houston Center for Contemporary Craft(HCCC) is a nonprofit arts organization founded to advance education about the process, product and history of craft. HCCC serves as an important cultural and educational resource for Houston and the Southwest—one of the few venues in the country dedicated exclusively to craft at the highest level. The organization provides exhibition, sales and studio spaces to support the work of local and national artists and offers mission-related educational programs in schools and underserved communities. Visitors enjoy viewing innovative exhibitions, visiting artist studios, strolling through the Craft Garden, creating their own crafts in monthly HANDS-ON HOUSTON events, and shopping for one-of-a-kind gifts and home décor in the Asher Gallery.

Located in the Museum District at 4848 Main Street, HCCC is open Tuesday through Saturday, 10 AM – 5 PM, and Sunday, 12 – 5 PM. Summer Hours: Closed Sundays, July 5th – Labor Day. Holidays: Closed Easter, July 4th, Labor Day, Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day and New Year’s Day.

Admission is free. Free parking is available directly behind the facility, off Rosedale and Travis Street. HCCC is three blocks south of Wheeler Ave. MetroRail station on Main Street.

HCCC is funded in part by grants from The Brown Foundation; Houston Endowment, Inc.; Texas Commission on the Arts; the National Endowment for the Arts; the Kinder Foundation; the Morgan Foundation; Windgate Charitable Foundation; and the Wortham Foundation.

Houston Center for Contemporary Craft is funded by grants from the City of Houston through the Houston Arts Alliance and is a participant of the Capacity Building Initiative.

For more information, call 713.529.4848 or visit http://www.crafthouston.org. Follow HCCC on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram @CraftHouston.

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