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Museum of Wisconsin Art Presents Tom Loeser: It Could Have Been Kindling

Sep 25, 2014 03:00PM, Published by Brittani Mattke, Categories: Arts+Entertainment

(WEST BEND, WI) The Museum of Wisconsin Art (MOWA) in West Bend is proud to present Tom Loeser: It Could Have Been Kindling, an exhibition of masterful contemporary furniture, on view at MOWA October 5, 2014–January 11, 2015. Organized in partnership with the Chipstone Foundation in Milwaukee, this exhibition spans Loeser’s 30-year career and demonstrates his talent for creating objects that are visually playful and imaginative as well as intellectually provocative. 

Internationally recognized and a craftsman, Tom Loeser refuses to be constrained by the conventions of furniture making. Challenging notions of form and function, he initiates a subtle dialogue between the seemingly separate realms of furniture and sculpture by designing and building one-of-a-kind functional and dysfunctional objects that are often carved and painted and always based on the history of design and object making.  

“This is MOWA’s first large solo show by a contemporary Wisconsin artist and we couldn’t be happier that it is Tom Loeser,” said Graeme Reid, MOWA Director of Collections | Exhibitions. “In his soft-spoken, methodical way, he has elevated himself to the top of the rankings in furniture makers nationally and internationally. His furniture achieves a rare feat: he satisfies the furniture purists and traditionalists with his design and craftsmanship, but also appeals to the general public with the familiarity of his objects and their sense of fun. We are also thrilled to highlight Tom because over the last 23 years at UW-Madison he has inspired and taught hundreds of students—ensuring that the world of furniture and design is in safe hands now and in the future.”  

Loeser’s work is readily identifiable—most of us own similarly purposed objects—but he softly and cleverly challenges the viewer to reevaluate what we own, how we use it, and how it fits into our daily lives. What are the essential features of a chair, lamp, cupboard or bed? What are their most important characteristics? Loeser’s ultimate goal is to “captivate the user with new possibilities.” 

For example, More Multiple Complications appears to be a traditional chest of drawers embellished with a graphic motif of stripes and lines that guide the observer’s eye over the piece. Upon closer inspection the viewer will find drawers inside of drawers inside of drawers. It is the furniture equivalent of a set of nesting dolls. As viewers, we are confronted with the dilemma of what we’d put in the drawers within drawers and are compelled to contemplate a hierarchy of our own possessions to be placed away for safekeeping.

Though he carves and constructs like a traditional craftsman, his unique perspective brings playful forms to life with a more contemporary aesthetic. Tom’s Flotilla collection grew from a project to acquaint him with the process of boatbuilding. Anchored by a boat’s common structural elements of keel, ribs, and stringers, he builds beautiful skeletal organic boat forms. Their unorthodox shapes and lack of a skin covering the frame provide the viewer a visual contradiction. They read clearly as boats, create visual volume, and can easily be imagined on the water, but for the fact that they would be completely dysfunctional as water craft.  

Besides his technical mastery, Loeser purposefully injects a sense of humor into his furniture making, not least in the title for the show. From almost anyone else, “it could have been kindling,” might seem overly self-deprecating, but Loeser transforms wood and paint into something simultaneously familiar, peculiar, intriguing, and beguiling. When designing a new piece, Loeser says, “I like to work from the history of furniture. I look at how objects are used, and then try to invent new visual forms that turn the historical approach to function inside out or upside down or backwards.” 

“Tom Loeser is one of the top furniture makers in the country,” said Laurie Winters, MOWA Executive Director | CEO. “Offering groundbreaking insight into furniture creation in the state of Wisconsin, we wanted to do this mid-career exhibition presenting Tom’s impressive compilation of his extremely inventive and rigorous work.”   

Born in Massachusetts, Loeser earned a BA from Haverford College in Pennsylvania in 1979, received a BFA from Boston University’s Program in Artisanry in 1983, and completed his MFA from the University of Massachusetts-North Dartmouth in 1992. Currently the Chair of the UW-Madison Department of Art, Loeser has been head of the wood/furniture area at UW-Madison since 1991. His work can be found in nearly every major US craft institution and his artwork has been included in over 200 national and international exhibitions since 1981. He is represented in the collections of 14 museums including the Museums of Fine Arts in Boston and Houston, the Renwick Gallery, the Cooper Hewitt Museum, the Yale University Art Gallery, the Milwaukee Art Museum, and the Brooklyn Museum. Loeser has been the recipient of several domestic and international awards, fellowships, and grants and in 2010 collaborated with the Bird Ross on the interactive reception desk for the new Madison Children’s Museum. 

In conjunction with the exhibition and in collaboration with the Chipstone Foundation in Milwaukee, is the accompanying publication, Tom Loeser: It Could Have Been Kindling. Available for purchase as a hard copy in the MOWA Shop, the book will also be offered completely FREE as a digital version via This is the first of MOWA’s free digital book offerings.



Tom Loeser: It Could Have Been Kindling
October 5, 2014–January 11, 2015

Press Preview Day
Thursday, October 2, 2014 l 9:00–5:00

Opening Party
Sunday, October 5 | 2:00–5:00

Exhibition Publication
Tom Loeser: It Could Have Been Kindling 
Available for purchase in the MOWA Shop and completely free as a digital version via 

Related Programs

Artist Talk
Thursday, October 9 | 6:30
Loeser will reveal the story of his career as a craftsman and give us a glimpse at the imagination capable of transforming basic “kindling” into contemporary masterpieces. 

All programs are FREE for MOWA members and no pre-registration is required.

About Museum of Wisconsin Art 
The Museum of Wisconsin Art (MOWA), originally established in 1961 as the West Bend Gallery of Fine Arts, is one of the top regional art museums in the country, and is the primary venue nationally for the exhibition of historic and contemporary Wisconsin art, including holdings of more than 300 artists, over 4,000 works of art, and a sizeable archive/ library. In April 2013, MOWA celebrated a major milestone with the opening of a new building that doubled the gallery square footage and expanded its capacity to offer public programs and educational activities. The Museum is located at 205 Veterans Avenue, West Bend. For general information, call 262.334.9638 or visit 

furniture woodworking exhibition Tom Loeser UW-Madison craftsman

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