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Lincoln Seitzman: Illusions in Wood 1984 - 2004
Lincoln Seitzman: Illusions in Wood
Honoring and Interpreting Tradition 1984 - 2004

I first noticed Lincoln Seitzman’s work in 1997 in the Wood Turning Center ’s Curators’ Focus: Turning in Context. There, his basket illusions neatly complemented the conceptual and language-based work of artists like Connie Mississippi and Gord Peteran. Lincoln , I fancied, was a whiz-kid just out of art school with a post-modern agenda: commenting on craft and its traditions while flaunting his uncanny mastery of the wood medium. I looked forward to seeing more of his work in the future. I got that LAST part right: I’d see and appreciate Lincoln ’s consummate skills again.

                Lincoln ’s pieced and turned objects are as refined conceptually and technically as anything made on the lathe today. They are notable, first, for high-level problem-solving; second, for his respect for the craft skills of other, often anonymous makers; and, third, for his finely honed understanding of fiber art. These qualities reflect Lincoln ’s lengthy, serendipitous preparation for a career as a turner. He received a Bachelor of Aeronautical Engineering from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in 1944 and joined the aircraft industry, developing planes for the Navy. Following the Second World War, he took over the family business. Thirty-five years of manufacturing clothing developed his eye for the many possibilities of woven and stitched fibers. 

                Retiring from business, he begin to experiment with wood and taught himself to use a lathe. He was selling cutting boards pieced from contrasting woods at the local tennis club when he encountered an object made by a wood carver to resemble a basket. The imitation of weaving was distorted on the sides. Lincoln does not really have the temperament of a hobbyist — nothing short of perfection satisfies him. “I said to myself,” Lincoln recalls, “if I did this, it would look like a basket all the way around.” It took some thought, but Lincoln ultimately was not only able to duplicate the positioning of different colors all around the basket; he finished the bottom as it would appear if woven.

                Lincoln entered one of his “Illusion” baskets in the WTC’s 1988 International Turned Objects Show and felt “like Cinderella” when it was accepted. “I met Albert [LeCoff, Executive Director of the WTC] and all the fellow turners. They were perfectly friendly and no secrets were withheld. It’s not the secrets,” he chuckles, “it’s the ability.”

                 “What will you do next?” LeCoff asked him.

                “I don’t know. I’ve done a basket; now I have to do something else.” 

                “Not necessarily,” LeCoff wisely replied.

                  In time, Lincoln found that, indeed, basketry would provide him with almost infinite inspiration and provide the field of turning with a body of distinctive work.

                Lincoln works in editions of up to twelve. “The time it takes to design a piece is 90% of the total time to make that piece. Speed for me is in terms of weeks. Each work of an edition may vary. Size and pattern are identical, but the exact colors of the wood may not be.” In his compact, orderly shop, he reconfigures a 1950s Shopsmith from a table saw to a 15” disc sander to a lathe.

                The “Petrified” series is made of glossy, highly finished dark and light colored woods cut in contrasting widths. Often strokes of a tiny pen create “shadows” that complete the illusion of weaving. Petrified Cherokee Basket and Petrified Ewer Basket both have wide horizontal bands “interwoven” with narrow verticals, along with some of those inked shadows.

                Lincoln challenged himself to make Banquet Basket, a large 25” disk duplicating a tray he saw in an Ethiopian restaurant. Petrified Shopping Basket which Lincoln identifies as “my masterpiece” is a vertical ovoid with a radiating pattern of small rectangles. The effect of an elegantly constructed utilitarian container is enhanced by the contrasting intentionality of undisguised wood in the handles and by diagonal braces which cut dramatically through the regular weave pattern.

                The Shopping Basket, like Treasure Basket and The Water Basket (with handles of real horse hair) are satisfying as self-contained sculptures without reference to a possible cultural meaning; however, Lincoln ’s admiration for handwork and humble crafts does link him to the Pattern and Decoration movement of the 1970s and 80s. When artists like Miriam Schapiro appropriated and imitated hand-worked woven, pieced, and embroidered fabrics, they drew attention to the achievements of unsung, anonymous creators. Similarly, Lincoln was inspired by baskets he saw in many settings. In a sense, each piece he makes is an homage to the vessel tradition.

                The “Basket Illusion” series is all about the “coiled” basket tradition. Lincoln refers to them as “stitched” baskets because stitching ties the coils of the real baskets together. In Lincoln’s versions, that same fine pen provides the lines defining the stitches and the intricate designs on half-round turned “coils” are painted. He has especially celebrated the Native American art at the Heard Museum in Phoenix . The fidelity of his representations of Navajo, Apache, Cherokee, Hopi and other Native American baskets reflects his understanding of the achievements of those Indian artists. It’s appropriate that his Apache Olla Basket Illusion (virtually identical to the one in this show) is in the collection of the White House. 

                Now, at the age of eighty, Lincoln Seitzman has announced that he will “retire gracefully” from turning. He’s acquired a few imitators and inspired many turners to find their own unique paths, but the master of illusions in wood has no peers in his chosen arena.

-Robin Rice

Lincoln Seitzman
“Whirlwind Basket Illusion” 2001
2” x 27”
Lincoln Seitzman
Petrified Cherokee Basket” 1999
12” x 10”
Ivorywood, Bloodwood, Ipe, Ink
Lincoln Seitzman
Petrified Ewer Basket” 1999
14” x 9”
Ivorywood, Bloodwood, Ipe, Ink
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