Knowing Your Business: ‘Turning out’ a legacy of artistry in wood

You may have seen examples of the natural artistry to come from Moulthrop Studios and not even realize it. However, it’s unlikely you’d forget the breathtaking imagery of the wood turned pieces crafted by the members of the Moulthrop family.

Matt-&-Philip

Matt and Philip Moulthrop

Over the years, the handcrafted wood pieces literally “turned” out by the late Edward Moulthrop, his son Phillip and grandson Matt, have fetched anywhere from a few hundred dollars to upward of $10,000 during auctions presented by Rago Arts and Auction Center, Kaminski Auctions and Brunk Auctions, among others. Antique Trader caught up with Philip Moulthrop recently to discuss the art and enjoyment of his family’s legacy of innovative wood turning.

Antique Trader: We’ve seen it noted that Edward Moulthrop was a pioneer of wood turning art, as well as an accomplished architect. What led him to delve into wood turning and ultimately establish Moulthrop Studios? How long has it been in existence?

Philip Moulthrop: Ed was a water color painter during college, 1930s, and up until the late 1950s or early 1960s. Also during that time, he did wood sculpture. He began to do some small turnings in the late 1950s using a small lathe and tools from Sears. He learned how to prevent wood from cracking, which allowed him to make larger pieces. He made a larger lathe and made his own larger tools. Eventually, he was able to turn pieces 3 feet in diameter.

Moulthrop Studios is actually the name that Matt and I decided to begin using as a general name about 15 years ago. We both turn wood, but do so separately using our own styles. We do share studio space for some of our work, but we actually market our work separately as independent artists, though we are in the same art galleries.

A white pine node wood bowl. (Photo courtesy Moulthrop Studios)

A white pine node wood bowl. (Photo courtesy Moulthrop Studios)

A.T.: How long has it been a family business, and do any other Moulthrop family members work in the company?

P.M.: Ed passed away in 2003, so now only myself and Matt are the wood turners in the family. I began turning in 1979, turning during evenings and weekends. That eventually led to taking off two days a week from my regular job and then completely doing the woodturning in the late 1990s. Matt began by helping Ed in his studio during high school in the 1990s doing clean up and moving wood, etc. He eventually began helping him with wood turning and other processes.

A.T.: Without giving away any key secrets, what is involved in the art of wood turning?

P.M.: In the style of turning that we do, we try to find wood that is unusual in some way. We look for different colors, patterns and contrasts that make the piece of wood unusual. After finding the wood we must decide on how to orient the piece to show those features that make it appealing. We spend a lot of time looking for the right pieces of wood and then using it to take advantage of the color or patterns that are there.

A.T.: Examples of Moulthrop Studios pieces are displayed in many noted museums and galleries around the world. What does that mean to the family to know your art is celebrated on this level?

P.M.: Knowing that we have pieces chosen by various museums and collections gives us 3-Keysa sense of accomplishment and pride. It also gives us a confirmation or validation that the quality of the work that we are creating is appreciated by not only by the public but by individuals and organizations that are knowledgeable in the area of crafts and wood art.

A.T.: Do you have apprentices learning the trade at Moulthrop Studios today, to carry on

the iconic style and family tradition?

P.M.: Neither Matt nor I have any apprentices learning the trade. I do have four grandchildren, who could grow up to follow in our footsteps. Time will tell about that.

A.T.: What are some of the benefits and challenges of being part of a family business?

P.M.: Although Matt and I create and market independently, we both share equipment and processes. We also discuss various aspects of what we are making, such as styles and clients and do not worry about someone taking our information or ideas and using them for some other purpose. We are also able to help each other with issues that may arise involving the processes. Working with family members can always present challenges. We always try to be mindful and respectful of each other while we are working and try to be helpful.

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