The Tool at Hand

July 10, 2013
Silversmith Ndidi Ekubia discusses the role of the hammer in her work Connection Vase. Video by Tomás Valenzuela Blejer.

What would it be like to create a work of art using only one tool? This is the question that Ethan Lasser, Margaret S. Winthrop Associate Curator of American Art and former Curator of the Chipstone Foundation, asked 16 contemporary artists who participated in The Tool at Hand, an exhibition organized by the Milwaukee Art Museum in collaboration with the Chipstone Foundation.

“We know a lot about how makers think about their materials, but I wanted to introduce this other point on the triangle of making—maker-tool-material” and to assess “the tool’s role,” said Lasser in a recent interview with the Houston Center for Contemporary Craft. For a group of artists who are accustomed to working with considerable tool kits, this experiment was a challenge to reflect on their relationship with their tools and the process of making. The result was a variety of creative and surprising artworks: silversmith Ndidi Ekubia manipulated metal with a hammer, glass artist Beth Lipman sculpted with a caulk gun, Hongtao Zhou used his hands and the hands of others to melt and sculpt wax into a chair, and Chad Curtis used data on radiation readings following the Japanese tsunami in 2011 to form a series of templates.

The Tool at Hand exhibition, featuring these objects alongside images of the tools used to craft them and a short explanatory video produced by each artist (one is featured below), is traveling to museums across the United States. The exhibition is currently on view at the Houston Center for Contemporary Craft in Houston, TX, through September 8, 2013, before it travels to the Museum of Contemporary Craft in Portland, OR, in October.

Can’t make it to Texas or Oregon? See the artworks, tools, videos, and more on The Tool at Hand website.