Wendy Maruyama:
The wildLIFE Project

September 18, 2015 — January 3, 2016
In the Main Gallery

Opening Reception
Friday, September 18, 5:30 – 8:00 PM
The evening will also feature the openings of Ann Morton: What Happened Today?/ The Collective Cover Project and Artifice of Nature, as well as open studios by HCCC’s current resident artists.

Related Programming
Artist Talk by Wendy Maruyama

Saturday, November 21, 2:00 PM

Houston Center for Contemporary Craft (HCCC) is pleased to present Wendy Maruyama:  The wildLIFE Project, an exhibition that serves to illustrate the plight of elephants and the illegal ivory trade. Through a moving installation of life-sized objects made from exotic woods and string and shrine-like forms made from steel and glass, the show makes a compelling case for the preservation of animals in the wild.

Furniture maker, artist and educator Wendy Maruyama has been making innovative work for 40 years.  While her early work combined ideologies of feminism and traditional craft objects, her newer work moves beyond the boundaries of traditional studio craft and into the realm of social practice. The wildLIFE Project focuses on the endangerment of elephants, a cause that is very personal to the artist. She recently took a sojourn to Kenya and met with wildlife advocates to investigate the dangers of the continued poaching of these magnificent animals. The trip served as a source of inspiration for the artist to create a new body of work and incorporate a strong societal message.

The elephant is memorialized in monumental form in The wildLIFE Project. The heads range from eight to 12 feet in height and are constructed from panels of wood, tied together with string. Their surfaces are finished in various earth tones, from grey to brick red.  Maruyama adapts the Buddhist ritual of honoring the dead and examines the meanings of different components of the Buddhist altar or obutsudan. In this context, the central object of reverence or worship (Gohonzon) is the elephant—tortured, killed and driven, almost to extinction, by man. Flowers are used to represent the impermanence of this gentle and majestic animal. A candle is placed on an altar to symbolize unchanging truth. Incense is burned as an offering in an attempt to capture the spiritual state in the present moment. A wooden reliquary is made to house large hand-blown glass tusks, symbolizing the preciousness of both the elephant and the ivory for which it is sourced. (Maruyama was an artist-in-residence at Pilchuck Glass School in May, 2013, and worked with professional glass blowers for these pieces.)

In recent years, Maruyama’s work has taken a narrative direction—integrating images and text into shrine-like cabinet forms—which adds an additional layer of sensory experience for the viewer.  Her “shrines” are constructed from various woods, steel and glass–raw materials that transfer emotion. Steel is immovable, permanent, and heavy; glass is fragile and opaque when stacked together. The installation further engages the viewer’s senses through the use of video, incense and a bronze bell set to ring throughout the day.  All of these components help make the viewer feel like a participant in a sacred ritual.

Former HCCC Curator Elizabeth Kozlowski has been following Maruyama’s work for many years.  She says that the artist views this body of work not only as an art project but as an advocacy tool—one that brings communities together for a common purpose. “The social-practice component of her artwork is successful in combining art, advocacy, education and community.  Her work manages to pull you in with stirring visuals and keep you engaged with multiple layers of content. ”

Following its premiere at Houston Center for Contemporary Craft, The wildLIFE Project will travel to five venues through 2017:

The Center for Art in Wood | Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
February 5 – April 23, 2016

Penland School of Crafts | Penland, North Carolina
July 12 – September 4, 2016

Chrysler Museum of Art | Norfolk, Virginia
September 23, 2016 – January 15, 2017

Museum of Craft and Design | San Francisco, California
February 11 – June 4, 2017

Oceanside Museum of Art | Oceanside, California
October 7, 2017 – February 11, 2018

The wildLIFE Project is made possible by generous support from the Windgate Charitable Foundation.

About the Artist

Wendy Maruyama has been a professor of woodworking and furniture design for over 30 years. She is one of the first two women to graduate with a Masters in furniture making from Rochester Institute of Technology. Maruyama has exhibited her work nationally for over four decades, with solo shows in New York City, San Francisco, Scottsdale, Indianapolis, Savannah, and Easthampton. She has exhibited internationally in Tokyo, Seoul and London. Maruyama’s work can also be found in both national and international permanent museum collections, including the Victoria and Albert Museum, London; Dallas Museum of Art, Dallas; Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery, Launceston, Australia; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; Philadelphia Museum of Art; Museum of Art and Design, New York; Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles; Mint Museum of Art, Charlotte; Fuller Craft Museum, Brockton; Mingei International Museum, San Diego; and the Oakland Museum of California.

Maruyama is a recipient of several prestigious awards, including the California Civil Liberties Public Education Grant, 2010; several National Endowment for the Arts Grants for Visual Artists; the Japan/US Fellowship; and a Fulbright Research Grant to work in the UK.

Join us in becoming a wildLIFE advocate. Educate yourself and others about ways to help protect these endangered species. Engage with the exhibition online by using the hashtag #wildlifeproject and follow us on TumblrTwitter and Instagram @CraftHouston to find out ways to participate in the conversation.

Above: (1) Wendy Maruyama “Cenotaph,” 2015. Wood, steel, glass, video component. Photo by David Harrison. (2 – 4) Wendy Maruyama, “Bell Shrine,” 2015, wood, ink, bronze. Photo by David Harrison. (5) Wendy Maruyama, “Tusks” (detail), 2014. Blown glass. Photo courtesy the artist. (6) Wendy Maruyama, “Maasai Night” and “Sonje,” 2014. Wood, string, paint. Photo courtesy the artist. (7) Wendy Maruyama, “Orkanyawoi,” 2014. Wood, string, paint. Photo courtesy the artist. (8) Wendy Maruyama, “Satao” (front view), 2014. Wood, string, paint. Photo courtesy the artist. (9) Wendy Maruyama, “Ghost,” 2014. Wood, string, paint. Photo courtesy the artist.