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Big Woods Group 017 Scaled E1660583329774

The word “terroir” resounds insistent in my head as I contemplate Big Woods, a new collection of wood sculpture from Aaron Poritz. If ever there was a maker informed by the elements of place, it is he. Aaron grew up in Leverett, a small town in the Pioneer Valley of northern Massachusetts, a land of rare wild beauty, with dense forests, rushing rivers, deep valleys, and striking vistas. A solitary boy, nature was his close companion, trees his friends. In a stream in the woods near his house, he used to catch trout and cook them along its banks. In those same woods, he built his first dwelling, a fort, from spruce and hemlock.

As Aaron grew older, he learned woodworking and ceramics. Engaging and creating with the elements of the earth was in his blood. His father, a former professor of sculpture and design, had become an eco-sensitive land developer and a builder of dry-stone walls. While Aaron loved craft, he didn’t see it as a vocation. He was convinced he was better suited to a life in design, so he pursued a career in architecture, that most pragmatic of the arts. After receiving his degree at the California College of the Arts, he made his way to New York City to ply his newly acquired architectural skills in a buzzy boutique firm. But the work didn’t satisfy, and the city made him grim.

An adventurous sojourn in another untamed realm, this time the jungles of Nicaragua, shifted Aaron’s creative focus. He was captivated by the unruly vigor of the landscape, as lush with promise as decay. Some years before his arrival, a fierce hurricane felled vast stands of tremendously tall old-growth trees. Now strewn upon the earth, the rot-bound trunks qualified for legal harvest. Recognizing opportunity amidst the devastation, Aaron set up a furniture business with a local partner, and went about investigating the design potential of such exotic specimens as Nogal, a tropical walnut known for its rich espresso and purple tones, and frijolillo, a dense and heavy blonde wood similar to oak.

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Big Woods Floor Mirror 002 Scaled E1660583546862
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His imagination unleashed by these tropical woods and their beguiling qualities, Aaron quickly designed a 20-piece furniture collection, produced by local craftsmen. He credits Danish modern furniture as an inspiration. Yet in the taut and tapered forms, so expressive of the tree within the wood, there is too a semblance of the lyric lines of that great American midcentury master Wharton Esherick. Aaron’s own skill as a woodworker is apparent in the inside-out joinery he devised to reveal the construction of each piece. There is not a single screw in the entire collection. Carrying through on his design motif of melding tree and timber, Aaron also added locale in his marketing. When he’d meet with potential buyers, he would explain how each bit of wood for every piece of furniture was acquired and where it had grown. In this careful and conscious approach to furniture making and selling, Aaron was slowly discovering a métier that verged on a calling.

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Big Woods Desk 009 Scaled E1660584018649

Happily, Aaron’s new enterprise enabled him to establish a studio at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, where he began producing high-end residential commissions. His experimentation with novel joinery techniques continued. In fact, he soon gained a certain celebrity for crafting exquisitely executed art deco-inspired casegoods with exposed tambours flaunting sumptuous wood grains. He also resumed his ceramics making. Organic forms and richly mottled and textured surfaces and glazes, reminiscent of lichen, fungi, charred wood, and smoke, distinguish these small compelling sculptures, many earth fired in the woods near his childhood home.

This creative flourishing made up for the friction Aaron still felt from urban life, as the city provided close proximity to other makers, fabricators, and galleries and so enriched his work. But as much as he enjoyed designing projects to suit the requirements of clients—and recognized how such engagement had helped refine his own design practice—a yearning to be freer, and more personal, in his creative expression took root.

Much to his own surprise, an artist was emerging out of Aaron, the designer. Big Woods, a sculptural paean to the woodlands of his youth, marks this growth. Employing a variety of subtractive fabrication processes—hand and robotic carving, charring, and stack lamination—to make these functional forms in bleached ash and ancient oak, Aaron has produced a visual language all his own, evocative of body, plant, and landscape. Some of the pieces are supremely sensuous and sophisticated, while others are surprisingly raw and naïve. Together they reveal the full panoply of wood’s potential for expression.

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About the Artist

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