The Perkins Center for the Arts in Moorestown will exhibit Kumiko wood designs by artist and woodworker David Gootnick later this month.
“I’m looking to offer people a vivid, visual experience that is interesting and unusual and pleasing, and maybe to reflect on Japanese art and Japanese culture,” Gootnick said of the Japanese woodworking technique. “I’m simply trying to create something that people find visually pleasing and enjoyable (and) maybe (they’re) interested in how it’s made.”
Gootnick – a woodworker by training and an artist by extension – studied at the School for American Crafts in Rochester, New York, followed by an apprenticeship as a maker of historical string instruments, or luthier. After that, Gootnick worked with other luthiers and eventually became a doctor. He’s had an eclectic career in medicine, including stints with the Peace Corps and as the former director of international affairs in the U.S. Government Accountability Office.
Gootnick built his own shop and retired from formal employment more than two years ago, all while learning the practice of Kumiko, an art form that dates to about 1,400 years ago and came from the Asian mainland.
“In many people’s hands in Japan and here and elsewhere, it’s a very hand-tool, piece-by-piece process of building …” Gootnick explained. “In many cases, it’s parts of furniture, so there’s some wonderful cabinet makers in the United States who will have one element of Kumiko as a feature of the cabinet.
“There aren’t too many people who are just building Kumiko art pieces, which is what I’m doing.”
Kumiko is most often found on ornamental shoji screens and the decorative features of traditional Japanese homes, according to Gootnick’s website. His work ranges from small to large pieces, and some of his compositions are made of more than 1,000 pieces of wood. Every piece is joined with precision and the work requires sharp tools that include chisels and saws.
Traditional woods used in Kumiko are Japanese Cedar and Cypress, but Gootnick primarily uses Alaskan Yellow Cedar. He mostly creates wall pieces, but he’s also made cabinets. And he does it simply for the love of the work.
“There’s a lot to be gained by just coming into my (Washington, D.C.) studio each day, enjoying being there, keeping it where everything is in its place, and everything has its place … And so it’s just a pleasure to be in that space.” Gootnick noted.
“There’s certainly a sense of accomplishment with completing a piece,” he added. “There’s a lot of design in it … I feel as though I’m honoring the tradition, and in some ways, the culture of Japan.”
Perkins will open the exhibit with an artist’s reception on Saturday, Nov. 18, from 5 to 8 p.m. Gootnick is excited for people to observe his work.
“You’ll notice if you see the exhibit that my pieces have names, but right below the name is the name of the pattern(s) that are in the piece,” he pointed out. “So I’m hoping that people will look at the patterns, look at the names of the patterns and sort of think about what a traditional Japanese element like that meant and what it looked like.”