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Smaller Minnesota show sees big winners

Challenge gift of $800,000 announced to endow curator of craft position at Smithsonian's Renwick Gallery

The Minnesota Woodworkers Guild held its 25th annual Northern Woods woodworking show and competition at the Southdale Center in Edina, Minn., April 24-27. The guild's membership has grown to more than 1,000 professional and amateur woodworkers, a portion of whom displayed their work to the general public at the annual spring event.

"The show was a little smaller this year," says Tony Kubalak, guild spokesman. "I think we had 50 pieces, with probably 45 entrants. We were a little concerned because the number of entrants and pieces was down, but it didn't seem to affect attendance, and I think most people's experience was pretty good. The weather was kind of lousy that weekend, which was good for us. I can't really quantify it, but we had a thousand show catalogs printed and we ended up with 100 or so left, but not everyone takes a catalog.

Lee Toman used cocobolo, rosewood and camphor for his

"The quality of work was typical; pretty high and varied. There weren't any pieces that didn't belong. Given the fact that it was smaller, maybe there weren't quite as many really top-end pieces."

With prizes also awarded for a turned set of cocobolo pool balls, a scaled model of the Sanibel Island, Fla., lighthouse, and a fancy clock, Kubalak says the guild is having difficulty in its effort to get a better handle on the identity of the show.

"This is one of the things as a show we struggle with," he says. "What are we? Are we a wood art show? It's a woodworker's guild show, so you try to be more inclusive than exclusive. But having said that, you're not going to get all furniture pieces. The furniture pieces seem to percolate to the top more than others. If you had two pieces that were equally well done and one is furniture and one is something else like a model, the furniture is probably going to get the nod."

Lee Toman took home the Best in Show award for his "Bathroom Vanity," while Mark Laub won three awards for his "Ariosa Chiffonier" lingerie cabinet. Laub has been the People's Choice winner for several years in a row.

"That's pretty much his signature style," Kubalak says. "If you look at his work from last year, you can probably tell it is him without even seeing his name. There are the colored woods, the way he puts them together; this calla lily that he has used on his corners on his posts, that's become another part of his signature in recent years. It seems to show very well, people love it."

Honduran mahogany and pin for the slip-seat frame were the woods used in Tony Kubalak's Philadelphia Queen Anne Side Chair, which won the Best Traditional Design award.

One of the guild's goals is to promote the highest standards in woodworking, while allowing each member to grow at their own pace from whatever level of skill and accomplishment they begin with. That is why one of the annual awards is presented for Best First Time in Show, which was won this year by Robert Sorenson for his stool.

"We try to encourage people to enter, and this year more than half of the people were first-time entrants," Kubalak says. "A lot of people are nervous about entering; they're afraid [of rejection]. Even the person who won the Best First Time in Show award; the day we were setting up he wanted to pick up his piece and withdraw because he said he couldn't compete with the other pieces. He ended up winning his award which I think he was ecstatic about, which he should have been, and I think he had a real positive experience."

Besides putting on the Northern Woods show, the guild hosts monthly educational meetings, produces a bimonthly newsletter and presents a nationally known speaker each year. Recent speakers have included Marc Adams and David Marks.

Renwick craft curator
The Smithsonian American Art Museum has announced a challenge gift to endow a curator of craft at its Renwick Gallery. An $800,000 challenge gift from Lloyd Herman, who was the founding director of the Renwick Gallery, is the catalyst for attracting an additional $1.2-million match from private contributors from across the United States.

"The excitement generated by Lloyd Herman's generous gift is reverberating around the museum and throughout the craft world," said Elizabeth Broun, a director at the Smithsonian American Art Museum, in a press release. "We are thrilled by this opportunity, which will allow us to continue to build the museum's craft program and to connect with patrons from across the country as we raise matching funds."

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The curatorial position will be named the Lloyd Herman Curator of Craft in honor of the lead donor.

"Though I haven't the wealth of many craft advocates and artists whose friendship I treasure from my 40-year association with the Renwick Gallery, even I can help," Herman said in the release. "Whatever their means, I hope that artists, collectors and all others who treasure American creativity in glass, clay, wood, fibers and metals will help me establish a permanently endowed curatorial position for craft at the Smithsonian American Art Museum."

Individuals interested in supporting this initiative can contact Ross Randall, development officer for major gifts, at 202-633-8393 or

Minnesota Woodworkers Guild, 10507 Vessey Road, Bloomington, MN 55437.
Smithsonian American Art Museum. Tel: 202-633-7970.

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