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The Commons
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The Arts

A local artist on the national stage

PBS series to feature Marlboro wood sculptor Michelle Holzapfel

For more information about David and Michelle Holzapfel and Applewoods Studio and Gallery (2802 Route 9, Marlboro, VT 05344) visit www.holzapfelwoodworking.com.

Originally published in The Commons issue #404 (Wednesday, April 19, 2017).



MARLBORO—Woodcarver Michelle Holzapfel is one of the artists featured in the upcoming episode of Craft in America on April 21, at 10 p.m., on PBS.

“She’s the first and, thus far, only Vermont artist to be included in the series,” says her husband, David Holzapfel, with whom she shares a studio and gallery located in Marlboro.

After its premiere airing, this, as well as all the other episodes of the Peabody Award-winning series, can be viewed online at PBS.org or Youtube.

Craft In America (www.craftinamerica.org) is a television series that explores “the vitality, history and significance of the craft movement in the United States and its impact on our nation’s rich cultural heritage.”

Capturing beauty, creativity, and originality of craftsmanship, each episode highlights artists and explores what the producers call “the interrelationship of what they do, how they do it, and why they have chosen a life of creating art.”

“Each of the series episodes has a theme, such as music, community, or teaching,” Michelle Holzapfel says.

The theme of the upcoming episode is Nature, and it features artists who explore the beauty and wonder of the natural world. Along with Holzapfel, artists include sculptor Patrick Dougherty, fiber artist Mary Merkel-Hess, book artist Catherine Alice Michaelis, and glass artist Preston Singletary.

The episode is described thusly at the Craft in America website: “Working with wood, glass, and fiber as well as new materials, the artists profiled in Nature challenge viewers to reassess their relationship to the natural world. Throughout history, the colors, textures, shapes, as well as scents and tastes of the physical world have inspired artists to produce works of astonishing dimension and power.”

In awe of trees

Michelle Holzapfel’s work is intricately bound to the natural world.

As she explains, “I have a very strong feeling for basically everything that grows, but I’m most in awe of trees. I refer to them as the quintessential material. Well, it’s wood, to begin with, they contain fire, they transpire air, they transform water into water vapor and they’re rooted in the earth, so they really embody the five elements. And I think that’s why I find them so endlessly inspiring.”

Holzapfel uses New England’s hardwoods — maple, cherry, ash and butternut — and their burls to create vessels, bowls, boxes, vases, and fanciful, unusual trompe l’oeil pieces which have brought her international recognition.

Nonetheless, Holzapfel considers herself a craftsperson rather than a fine artist.

“Of course anything can be art, but I am essentially a woodcarver,” she says. “Because of how I work, everything I make has to be individual, and in that sense I share the sensibly of an artist. While some craftsmen produce the same thing over and over, because each piece of wood I use is unique with its own peculiarities, I create objects that are one-of-a-kind and idiosyncratic.”

Holzapfel’s interest in carving wood goes back to high school when she began carving to make prints. She soon found she liked the carving part of the printmaking the best, and so switched directions. Later in high school, she began making signs out of pine with hand tools.

“I grew up in Northern Rhode Island and came to Vermont in 1969 to attended Marlboro College,” she says.

There she met David in 1970, and the couple decided to stay in the area to raise a family. They also opened Applewoods Studio on Route 9, featuring hand-carved hardwood furniture and vessels.

Working in wood

Both she and her husband work in wood, but differently from each other.

“David basically creates furniture on commission, while I take found objects to creature sculpture, primarily vessel forms,” Michelle says. “I also work with textile.”

She and her husband may share the space, material, and tools at Applewoods, but at the same time they keep their distance from each other’s work.

“We wait until we’re asked before we comment on what the other is doing,” Michelle says. “We respect each other too much.”

To make the Applewoods business successful, David and Michelle not only make the crafts, but also sell, photograph, and advertise them.

“Like so many in Vermont, we developed a cottage industry that works for us, establishing a decent if not extravagant living,” Michelle says.

After initially selling from this studio, the Holtzapfels began to show their work at crafts shows in the 1970s and 1980s.

However, about 20 years ago, David began teaching fifth- and sixth-graders at Marlboro Elementary School, and the itinerant life of craft shows no longer worked so well for the Holtzapfels.

“We did still do some shows on weekends and in summers, but it was not the same,” Michelle says.

Instead, Michelle began to show her work in prestigious galleries in Atlanta, Los Angeles, Boston, and Philadelphia.

“I usually had a one-woman show about once a year,” she says. “In the 1990s, there was a madness about collecting woodcraft, and now some of these great collections have been bequested to museums. Consequently, my work is now on view in many major museums.”

’A good, steady business’

Then came the great recession of 2008, and many of the owners of those galleries where Michelle showed her work closed up shop.

“Now David and I have come full circle to where we are selling most of our work out of our shop or at our website online,” Michelle says. “But we are able to do a good, steady business from our studio.”

The producer and entire crew of Craft in America came out to Applewood in Marlboro for two full days to film the episode.

“As I hear is typical of Craft in America, they ended up with 16 hours of footage which they distilled into a 12-minute segment about me and my work,” Michelle says. “That may seem short, but 12 minutes is actually a lot of time on television.”

Michelle had become acquainted with the producer of Craft in America at the time the series first went on the air, when they had invited her to include work in an inaugural exhibit.

Besides producing the television series, Craft in America also curates exhibitions — some at the Craft in America Center in Los Angeles and others traveling to museums and craft centers around the country.

At that time, there was some talk of Holzapfel being the subject of a future episode.

“I filed the idea away as a good thing,” Michelle says. “But time passed and I so forgot about the possibility, that when it actually happened I was surprised and delighted.”

Michelle feels that Craft in America did a great job, not only with her own work but also the others showcased in the episode, and considers it an honor to be included.

“To tell the truth, it feels like a lifetime achievement award,” she says. “I have now been doing this work for so many years that I feel like a relic. Everyone has a story to tell but most don’t get the chance to tell it. I am grateful I have been given that opportunity. I want to inspire younger people working in craft and to encourage them to hang in there, just as I did.”

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