"…you look at the piece of wood and
you can imagine something about the
life of the tree."
- Philip Moulthrop
Craft In America Theme: Family
In this lesson, students will study the
woodturning tradition of three
generations of the Moulthrop family.
Students will watch Craft In America:
Family, featuring the Moulthrops, from
the DVD or online. The class will focus
on how the members of Moulthrop family support each other to achieve their
goals, and the decision to make art their career. Students will examine the
relationship the Moulthrops have with their chosen material, wood. Students will
look for evidence of the Moulthrop family's experimentation and invention. Finally,
the class will experiment with creating wood finishes and create an artwork using
recycled or scrap wood.
Grade Level (10-12)
Estimated Time (Two 45-minute class periods of research, discussion & planning,
followed by four or more 45-minute studio periods.)
The Moulthrop family resides in Atlanta, Georgia. Three
generations of Moulthrops—the late Edward, his son Philip, and his grandson
Matthew—have pursued woodturning as a craft and a livelihood. The family
members, including Philip's wife, Renée, and Matt's wife, Amanda, are supportive
of one another to help the family achieve desired goals. The Moulthrops have
great respect for their chosen material of wood. They recognize the life and the
history of the wood that they use, and consider the wood with a deep, almost
spiritual, appreciation. The Moulthrops are experimenters and continue to push the
limits of their craft in inventive ways.
Meet three generations of the Moulthrop family of woodturners.
- Art is sometimes a family practice, with skills being passed from one generation to another.
Artists may develop a symbiotic relationship with their materials.
Artists experiment to achieve new things with their artwork.
Art is a potential career choice.
- How do families support each other, emotionally and financially?
What kinds of careers require artistic skill?
How can a person connect emotionally to a material?
Why do artists try new techniques, tools and concepts?
- Become familiar with the heritage and techniques embodied in the
woodturning of the Moulthrops.
Delineate ways families may support each other.
Consider art careers.
Experiment with surface
treatments of wood.
Articulate an idea about
family, trees, nature, or
history, and express it
through an artwork
created from recycled
Lathe, Chisel, Gouge, Grit (sandpaper textures)
Science: studying wood and trees, experimenting and recording results.
History: as an extension, students may study the history of woodturning and the Moulthrop contributions.
1. Understanding and applying media, techniques, and processes
4. Understanding the visual arts in relation to history and cultures
- Inventing Wood Finishes
- Extending the Life of a Tree
Materials for Studio Production: Materials to be gathered include media for various
experimental wood finishes. Encourage students' additional ideas for media. Also,
students may help gather natural wood such as twigs, scraps of wood, and used
wooden items to be recycled in projects.
- wood scraps
- craft wood pieces
- wood and tree materials from local sources: twigs, acorns, pods, etc. found on the ground around trees
- old items from discards and thrift stores: wooden bowls, boxes, stools, picture frames, toys, shelves, trays, etc.
- paper scraps for decoupage
- pastels, crayons, ink, metallic paint, markers, stain, shellac, brush-on clear finishes (matte and gloss medium), paints of various kinds, floor wax, pastels, oil, tea, coffee (stains)
- brushes, rags, sponges for application of finishes
- "recipe" cards (index cards for recording finishing experiments)
- wood burning tool, if available
- paper grocery bags (for sanding) and sandpaper
- white glue
- glue gun and hot glue
- wood glue
- hand drill
- gouging materials such as chisels
- nails and screws
- optional: a camera to photograph experimentation and studio production for later display
"I think he had this urge to see, could he go bigger than that?"
– Philip Moulthrop, commenting on his father Ed's woodturning
This lesson looks at the woodturning craft of the Moulthrop family. The Moulthrops
supported each other emotionally and financially as Ed, Philip, and Matthew
chose careers in woodturning. The Moulthrops have a great connection to and
fondness for their chosen medium of wood. They all experiment to push the limits of
Investigation (one 45-minute class period)
Introduce students to the Moulthrops and describe briefly what they will see.
Have students look for the following: References to careers, evidence of family
support, examples of invention and affection for wood as a medium.
View the Moulthrop family segment of the Craft in America: Family episode.
Ask for student reactions. What did they think of the work? It is awe-inspiring,
and students may want to share comments.
Note the continued references to jobs (the gallery owner notes the careers that
Ed, Philip and Matt left to become artists. Renée and Amanda discuss their
husbands' switch to their artistic careers. Matt states he did not think he could
make a living as an artist.) Are there societal beliefs or stereotypes that may account for this? (People may stereotype art as "not a real career," or less
successful than being an architect, attorney, or working in business.) Yet the
Moulthrops have made successful careers in art. In fact, Ed states that when he taught
architecture, the family struggled to make ends meet. It was his artwork that
brought them a more comfortable life.
Share information on art careers. Discuss which have appeal to students. Note
how the Moulthrops are described as happy in their work. A discussion about
earnings vs. contentment in a job can be useful in defining goals for students.
What are different ways to define success in a career? (Feeling one makes a
difference or contributes, being able to invent or experiment, monetary,
enjoyment of the tasks, working outside or in pleasant surroundings, being with
people you like, working with family, getting to travel, gaining respect, etc.)
Have students describe the ways in which the Moulthrops support each other.
(Renée and Amanda recount supporting their husbands' decisions to become
full-time woodworkers. Ed, and then Philip, served as teachers in the family,
handing down the craft. Matt admires and respects his elders' work.)
Ask students for examples of invention displayed by the Moulthrops. (Ed
created his own tools and pioneered the giant turnings. Philip created the
mosaic-style bowls with epoxy, and the glaze machine based on the NASA
glove-making design. Matt invented new polishing methods.)
How would students describe the feelings that Philip and Matt have for wood?
(Philip says, "…you look at the piece of wood and you can imagine something
about the life of the tree." When Philip picks up a piece of wood, he notes, "It
has this feeling of still being alive in your hand." Matt likes, "being able to
extend the life of a tree…" and mentions that his grandfather once used a tree
planted by Thomas Jefferson. The Moulthrops have an almost spiritual
connection to the wood they use.) Help students find connections to objects
they may feel similarly about. Some students may feel affection for their own
choice of art medium, or specific sports equipment, clothing items, etc.
Inventing Wood Finishes:
(one or more 45-minute class periods)
Using the worksheet, "Inventing Wood Finishes," have students experiment with
various finishes on scraps of wood. Note: pieces of paper grocery bags make
surprisingly good polishers/sanders for wood. Depending on the abundance of
material at hand, you may want to form students into groups to work together. The
activity lends itself to group work.
Students will try out their own ideas for
wood treatment. They will record their
"recipes" and they will note the results
on the worksheet. You may want to
have some students document the
process by photographing the activity
and the resulting examples.
Circulate while students work to be
available for help, clarification and
conversation. Encourage layering and multi-step processes for more variations.
Encourage students to describe the feel and appearance of the finishes, beyond
their first impressions. There is texture and appearance, but what might these
evoke as a mood, style, feeling or symbol? Have students share their results and
post their recipes for others to see and possibly use.
Extending the Life of a Tree:
(four or more 45-minute class periods)
Using the worksheet, "Extending the Life of a Tree," have students consider ideas
discussed that may resonate with them. They may want to explore further the
ideas of family, support, trees, nature, recycling, history and legacy, career,
success, invention, or art. Combining these terms may also be a jumpstart for ideas
to be presented (such as family and tree, or history and recycling).
Combining the experimental wood finish, wood
material, and idea/concept, students will decide
how to present their concept using materials at
hand. Some students may have ideas beyond the
scope of the project, which can be encouraged
as similar to the way the Moulthrops push the limits
of their art. Ideas change as students re-consider
materials, messages, and what they want to
create. Encourage students to choose a direction,
and allow them to vary it if their ideas and
experiments lead them elsewhere.
A demonstration of tool use
is advisable, as students get
ready to produce their art.
Remind students of finishing
options; they may want to
use someone else's recipe
for a finish.
Brush diluted white glue
(half water and half glue)
or matte or gloss medium to wood surface. Apply cut paper, smoothing it over the
surface. While wet or when dry, brush another coat on top of paper. Allow surface
Demonstrate connecting methods such as gluing, working with hammer and nails,
and using a drill and screws. Go over safety rules and precautions. Brainstorm
aloud as students work, encouraging, offering ideas, and reminding students of
options in materials, finishes and concepts.
Stop for in-process critiques. Have students
show their artworks to each other. Pause
and look at the work from a short distance.
Have students ask each other to interpret
their artworks. Is the work representing the
student's intention? Does this matter to the
When work is complete, students should create an artist's statement, with artwork
title, artist's name, and a short explanation of the piece on a card, tag, or typed
page, to be presented with the artwork. Consider displaying photographs of the
students working, a selection of the finishing experiments, and student artworks in a
showcase or hallway to share with the school community.
By examining the worksheets and the student's artwork, and in discussions with the student throughout the project, it should be evident that the student can:
Explain the unique aspects of the Moulthrop's work.
Delineate ways families may support each other.
Describe several art careers.
Show evidence of experimentation with
surface treatments of wood.
Articulate an idea through an artwork
created from recycled wood.
Students may examine the work of the following
artists on the Craft In America website, listed
under "Wood" (www.craftinamerica.org/artists_wood)
Michelle Holzapfel is a self-taught
woodturner. She makes use of the imperfect
wood scraps left behind by loggers.
Sam Maloof was a self-taught furniture
maker and a MacArthur "genius" awardwinner.
George Nakashima was a master
woodworker. Mira Nakashima-Yarnall, his
daughter, carries on the tradition.
The Educators' Guide for Family was developed
by art educators Amy Albert Bloom and Dolores E. Eaton under the direction of Dr.
Marilyn Stewart, Professor of Art Education, Kutztown University of Pennsylvania,
Lead Author for The Moulthrops: A Family of Woodturners is Amy Albert Bloom.