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Buck carves into the Hallie Ford Museum of Art

The Hallie Ford Museum rolled out its new exhibit on Jan. 28 with the work of John Buck, known for his large woodblock prints and sculptures.

Ladder, Ring, Leaf.
Photo by Carlos Pimentel

His work fits right in with the contemporary regional focus of the museum, said John Olbrantz, director and curator of the exhibition. Being from Montana, Buck’s art is crucial to examining art in the Pacific Northwest, an important theme for Hallie Ford.

Photo by Carlos Pimentel

Buck uses a soft wood from Malaysia called jelutong. The use of this wood allows Buck to transfer his carvings to prints differently than common woodblock printmakers do. This also means that, due to the softness of the wood, original carvings can only be transferred so many times before the carving loses its integrity.

“It’s soft and very pliable,” said Olbrantz. “He can achieve the results that he’s after.”

Due to Buck’s “unique” approach, he is able to create large prints that are up to 7 feet high, said Olbrantz.

The Reef.
Photo by Carlos Pimentel

Not only does Buck use a different way to produce his art pieces, but he also shines lights on issues that hold no regional boundaries. His prints may offer images and symbols that represent social, economic and gender issues. 

The Mechanic.
Photo by Carlos Pimentel

“He will use primarily his prints as a vehicle to speak out on different issues,” Olbrantz said. “There is a whole host of different issues that he’s dealt with, [including] the Japanese internment during World War II. All of those issues, and others, play a part in his work.” 

When looking at art, it is hard at times to know what the artist is exactly trying to say. Buck has pieces that may be hard to interpret, said Olbrantz. The museum took this into consideration when curating the exhibit.

Nine Quarter Circle.
Photo by Carlos Pimentel

“[Buck’s] not always real obvious…If you read the labels, that will hopefully give you an entry point to looking at the work and trying to understand it…We encourage the reader to take a look and just speculate. Have fun with it,” Olbrantz said. “There is a right and a wrong answer, but in other cases, he keeps it vague enough, and sort of ambiguous enough that he really allows the viewer to come to their own interpretation of what he’s trying to say with the work.”

The Coal Mine.
Photo by Carlos Pimentel

A reoccurring style that can be seen in Buck’s work is the use of a frontal image and a background full of a wide variety of symbolic images, as seen in “The Coal Mine.”

“If you look at the background, especially in his prints, there is always that sort of frontal image. The image that’s in the foreground dominates the image. Then, behind that dominant image are all kinds of very subtle images. There is often a relationship between the primary image and the secondary images,” Olbrantz said.

All of the pieces are from the private collection of the Jordan D. Schnitzer Family Foundation located in Portland. The Schnitzer collection is compiled of over 15,000 prints from various artists. The Jordan D. Schnitzer Family Foundation supplies artwork for museums across the country. 

The Hallie Ford Museum of Art is located on 700 State St. The exhibition will continue until March 29, 2020. 

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