Martin Puryear’s “Untitled” is just off the path, hidden amongst the trees, the medium from which it was constructed. It reflects the artist’s relationship with nature and his use of naturally organic materials, usually wood to create sculptures. The style is one of simple, reductive, abstract forms, and minimalism. Some of the inspiration stems from his Peace Corps residency in Sierra Leone (Africa) and his interest in handcrafted useful items made by tribal people around the world. Puryear is moved by people working without technology and constructs his own sculptures entirely by hand.
The naturalistic, utilitarian theme is apparent in Untitled which suggests a large wooden basket. Basket making is also an important component in the lives of Michigan’s indigenous peoples. The Ojibwa constructed baskets of black ash splints using a similar over/under weave pattern, making them into a variety of shapes and sizes depending on the intended use. One such use was the drying and storage of wild rice that grew in the many inland lakes of Michigan.
When asked about titles, Martin Puryear says “I am ambivalent about titles because I think they can close off people’s experience of the work if they stop at the name and go no further.” Let your imagination suggest ideas for the sculpture. Perhaps it is a basket. Maybe it is a hat? Or a hut?
Whatever you decide, or choose not to decide, the mellow wood sculpture stands awaiting your visit in the silent forest.