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Wood Whisperer

  • Vicco in his workshop. Photo by Geoffrey Demeritt.
    Vicco in his workshop. Photo by Geoffrey Demeritt.
  • A detail from the Vicco von Voss chair.
    A detail from the Vicco von Voss chair.
    ©, 2014 Buchanan Studios
  • "Yin & Yang Table."
    "Yin & Yang Table."
    ©, 2014 Buchanan Studios
  • Detail from "Yin & Yang Table."
    Detail from "Yin & Yang Table."
    ©, 2014 Buchanan Studios
  • "Water Edge"
    "Water Edge"
    ©, 2014 Buchanan Studios
  • Detail from "Water Edge."
    Detail from "Water Edge."
    ©, 2014 Buchanan Studios
  • "Crook Frame Door."
    "Crook Frame Door."
    ©, 2014 Buchanan Studios
  • "Cascading Water."
    "Cascading Water."
    ©, 2014 Buchanan Studios
  • A feat of craftsmanship and engineering: the Metamorphosis desk.
    A feat of craftsmanship and engineering: the Metamorphosis desk.
    ©, 2014 Buchanan Studios
  • Detail from "Metamorphosis."
    Detail from "Metamorphosis."

Location: Kohl Gallery

September 04, 2014
The Kohl Gallery opens for the season Sept. 4 with an exhibition of the functional art of Vicco von Voss ’91.

CHESTERTOWN, MD—The Kohl Gallery at Washington College begins its new season with a month-long exhibition of contemporary wood sculptures and furniture by master craftsman Vicco von Voss ’91.  The exhibition, Transformations, opens Thursday, September 4 with a free, public reception, 5 to 7 p.m., and continues through October 3.

The Kohl Gallery show will feature fourteen pieces from von Voss’s recent exhibition at the Academy Art Museum in Easton, which ran May 10 through July 14, 2014.  For von Voss, who usually creates each piece by commission, the Academy show was an opportunity to let his creativity flourish beyond the restrictions of his clients’ functional needs. “The museum show allowed me to show the potential of what you can do with wood, and to show who I am as an artist,” he says.

A native of Kiel, Germany, von Voss believes he was born into his passion for wood and design: one grandfather was a forester, the other an architect. His childhood was spent in various locations around the world, from Europe to the Middle East to South Africa — wherever his father’s career in international business took them.   He came to the United States as a teenager and eventually enrolled in Washington College, where he earned his bachelor’s degree in art with a minor in chemistry in 1991. After a three-year carpentry apprenticeship in Hamburg, back in his native Germany, he returned to the Chestertown area and began making custom furniture.

Von Voss says he looks forward to involving Washington College students in setting up the exhibition and in related events planned for the month-long show. “I hope my work speaks to the students in different ways – showing them that if they follow their dreams they can make anything happen.”

He credits two emeritus faculty members, professor of art Susan Tessem and professor of chemistry Frank Creegan, for shaping his life and career in significant ways. From Tessem he learned the importance of negative space and “the spaces in between.” In her own work, Tessem would establish a boundary line, a white line, and then go beyond it, he explains. “It was a signature of her paintings,” he explains. “I incorporate lines in my work in a similar way, both straight and curved, often defined by shadow line.”

Throughout his college years von Voss worked part time for a refinishing firm in Church Hill, and he graduated thinking he would pursue furniture restoration as a career. Knowing of this interest, Professor Creegan helped him shape his senior-year independent study around the chemistry of wood and the products such as glue and stain that are often applied to it. That practical knowledge helped prepare von Voss to flourish at his craft early on.

Another key influence he cites is former director of the waterfront John Wagner, who hired von Voss to work summers at the College boathouse, maintaining and refinishing the boats and teaching sailing to school groups. “Those summers, staying in Chestertown, got me involved with the community,” he says. “Chestertown really embraced me, which was — along with all the old-growth trees on the Eastern Shore — why I returned here to start my business and establish my adult life. ”

Von Voss works with salvaged wood, trees fallen by storms or taken down by landscaping and tree-removal companies. He relishes establishing a connection with the wood and giving it new life as a work of functional art. “My first passion are the trees, the wood,” he says. “I enjoy the process of getting that log, knowing where they came from, then opening them up in my shop facilities and letting them tell me what they wants to be. I have to listen, or it will rebel. The piece will flow so much better if I take my ego out of the process and really let the wood determine the flow of the design.” 

He strives for a timelessness that shows reverence for the tree and its history. “I have a philosophy that if it took a tree eighty years to grow, I have the responsibility as a craftsman to produce work that will last at least 80 years,” he says. “The design has to fit today and tomorrow.”

In reviewing the show at the Academy Art Museum for the Talbot County Spy, art critic Mary McCoy praised von Voss’s flair for bringing out the natural beauty of wood with imaginative whimsy. “It’s easy to get lost in marveling at his mastery as he bends wood as thin as a leaf, sculpts it into voluptuous curves, or fashions elegant hinges from bits of walnut,” she wrote. “In tables, stools, chairs, and abstract sculptures, he pushes his wood and his own abilities to their limits, exploring just how much this basic building material can do. … There is a passion in his work that stirs imagination, but there is also something about his mastery that is calming and gratifying.”   

The Kohl Gallery is located on the ground floor of the Gibson Center for the Arts on the Washington College campus, 300 Washington Avenue. Hours are Wednesday through Sunday, 1 to 6 p.m. For more information, call 410-778-6499, or email 

Photos:  Von Voss with salvaged wood near his workshop, photo by Geoffrey Demeritt.  The von Voss Chair, photo by Steve Buchanan.

Last modified on Aug. 14th, 2014 at 12:44pm by .