Contemporary design

2009-12-29 00:00

A SPECTACULAR wooden bench made by Pietermaritzburg artist Rob Scott is in pride of place in the Tatham Art Gallery’s Schreiner Gallery.

The work is one of several new ­acquisitions made by the Pietermaritzburg gallery for its permanent ­collection and was paid for with money raised by the Friends of Tatham Art Gallery.

Scott said the bench was made ­using planks from a hard pear (linea ventosa) tree, which was felled 50 kilo­metres west of Umtata. The ­location was at the farthest end of the tree’s natural range. This species is more usually found in the southern Cape and around Knysna.

The tree was bought by Scott at an auction held by the Department of Water Affairs and Forestry after it was felled to make way for a road between Umtata and Ugie.

“I remember bidding on the log at auction almost to the day three years ago,” he said. “It was a Department of Water Affairs and Forestry auction and was very badly organised. We were bidding far more than the reserve prices but the organisers decided we weren’t paying enough so lots of logs went unsold. We later heard that many were ­stolen.”

Brendan Bell, director of the Tatham, approached Scott to make the bench when the gallery was hanging the portrait of Cetshwayo at the end of 2006. “It’s taken a while to get a gap and the energy to do it. I initially thought of using white pear salvaged from the dune mining at St Lucia, but I couldn’t get planks that were quite long enough. It’s a pity … it would have been a powerful message,” he said, adding that he had been determined to use an indigenous wood to make the bench, but didn’t want to fell a tree to get it. The hard pear he finally chose comes from a tree which was around 250 years old when it was felled. The trunk was 400 millimetres in diameter.

To create the work, which could easily sit alongside the world’s best contemporary furniture, Scott initially made a 1:5 drawing, and then constructed a series of jigs — woodworking tools which make intricate tasks easier and consistently repeatable — to help him construct the various ­elements of the bench.

In total, it took 480 hours to make the bench, which is laminated, has the most delicious curve, and doesn’t contain a single metal screw or nail. The finishing touch is a strip of ebony which he acquired from the estate of the late Mr Ream of Ream and Son cabinet-makers.

It’s a truly stunning piece of furniture and is a wonderful new addition to the Tatham collection.

Other works on show in the Recent Acquisitions exhibition, which runs until March 14, include paintings by Terence King and Terrence Patrick, a spectacular photographic work by John Soderlund, wire and beaded flowers by Corrina Lemmer, and an intricate handmade book by Estelle ­Liebenberg-Barkhuizen, all of which formed part of the Contemporary ­Reflections exhibition hosted by the gallery earlier this year.

Beautiful beaded necklaces by ­Eunice Cele, based on designs by veteran artist Andrew Verster, have also been acquired for the collection, as were a linoprint by Vuli Nyoni, a rolling ball sculpture by Zotha Shange and works by Pietermaritzburg’s ­famous Chicken Man.

To see them, visit the gallery from 10 am to 5 pm, Tuesday to Sunday.

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