Leroy Setziol: Selections from the Permanent Collection

Organized by Nicole Nathan, Deputy Director and Curator of Collections, and Ashley Gibson, Assistant Curator and Exhibitions Coordinator

A Community Connections Project

January 07, 2016 – February 20, 2016

Wood sculptor Leroy Setziol (American, 1915-2005) and Museum of Contemporary Craft (MoCC) enjoyed a long and harmonious relationship. In the mid-1950s, Oregon Ceramic Studio, now MoCC, founder Lydia Herrick Hodge encouraged and promoted a burgeoning, self-taught Setziol because she sensed a “spark.” What followed were numerous exhibitions, partnerships, and public programs. Now, almost sixty years after Setziol and Hodges’s initial meetings, Setziol’s distinctive wood panels, murals, and friezes are immediately recognizable. The St. Vincent’s Medical Center in Portland, Salishan Lodge in Gleneden Beach, and numerous churches and private homes are just a few of the environments enhanced by sculptures that reveal a sensitivity to materials, and also an identification with timeless forms that imply growth and renewal. Setziol’s use of black walnut, teak, fir, and other woods reveals a respect for the material while reminding his viewer of the bounty of the Pacific Northwest.

Setziol’s affinity for nature and landscape was expressed in his youth when he turned down an art scholarship to college, thinking his life’s work would be forestry. After graduating from Elmhurst College, he entered Eden Seminary to earn a bachelor’s degree in Divinity Studies, which he then complemented with graduate work in philosophy at Johns Hopkins University. His sculptures pay homage to the spirit behind an ordered universe. The rough co-exists with the smooth, and the angular edges of wood in high relief are balanced by rounded, incised shapes. Spontaneity and formality find balance in his work.

Today the Museum holds a well-formed sampling of Setziol’s work that has been exhibited over the last sixty years, at times in conjunction with rarely-seen archival materials. Through these juxtapositions we explore the relationships between the artist, the Museum, and the history of art in the Pacific Northwest.

Like founder Lydia Herrick Hodge, Setziol believed in sharing his creative gifts as an artist. When he and his wife, Ruth, moved to a rural community near Sheridan, Oregon, Setziol planted thousands of trees for a “sculptors’ forest,” which, when fully mature, would be a free source of material for other artists who celebrate the vitality of wood through their own work. His daughter, Monica, continues to live on the property and carries on the tradition of woodcarving.

To see more of Leroy Setziol’s work, visit the Portland Art Museum through September 7, 2016. In honor of the 100th year of Setziol’s birth, a selection of twenty-three works are on display, including free-standing sculpture, totems, and wall reliefs.