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University of Connecticut University Libraries

With Pencil Marker, 2004


John Magnan’s woodcarvings use the annual growth rings of trees as vocabulary for sculpture. Happening by chance upon this technique, the artist carefully carves along a chosen surface to reveal the exact pattern of growth of the tree for that particular year. The work in this exhibit explores the possible representational, abstract and utilitarian forms that can be created while constrained by these natural surfaces.

“Carving along the growth layers gives the tree the last word in my sculptures,” Oak Ring: Year 1996Magnan observes, “with each layer being a ‘page’ from the autobiography of the tree.” While he imposes specific and careful will upon each piece, sometimes to create recognizable objects, the ultimate shape of the outcome is beyond the artist’s control. In the end, the tree itself defines the organic surface that the viewer first encounters. These creations are a unique and intimate partnership between nature and artist. Magnan has yet to see an end to the variety of forms that this technique might yield.

John Magnan was born in Utica, New York and raised in New Haven, Connecticut.John Magnan on Cougar Bench Growing up in a family of wood workers and “do-it-yourselfers,” he learned early on how to make things for himself. A self-taught wood worker, he maintained the craft as a life-long serious hobby. Upon early retirement from a career with the federal government, Magnan returned to school and studied sculpture for four and a half years, culminating in an MFA degree from the University of Massachusetts in 1999.

He resides in the Historic District of New Bedford, Massachusetts where he uses the street level of a whaling era provisioning house as his studio. His studio is open to the public and throughout the year he welcomes visitors from all over the world.

Babbidge Library, Gallery on the Plaza
Curators: David Avery and Norman Stevens