A Love of Wood: Chaim Gross’s I Love My Baby
November 11, 2020 – March 21, 2021
“I’m a carver; the harder the material, the more pleasure I am given chipping it away.” —Chaim Gross
I Love My Baby (1948) exemplifies Gross’s balance of material and subject matter as a mature sculptor. His choice of lignum vitae, a favorite hardwood, was inspired by its natural qualities—grain, color, texture, and density—that he highlighted in the sculptural form. In this lighthearted depiction of a mother holding a child aloft, the artist emphasized the tree trunk’s columnar, round form in the twists and spirals that lure the viewer to circle around the figures. Gross often carved family groups and acrobats, which highlight the vertical form of the tree in rhythmic stacks of figures, and also convey the humor and joy that pervade Gross’s entire body of work.
The elevation of direct wood carving to an art form in the 1930s is largely attributed to Chaim Gross (1902?1991). During the nineteenth century, the technique had been disapprovingly designated as folk art. Gross famously possessed an instinctive understanding of wood as a material early in his life; before immigrating to the United States with his brother in 1921, he and his family had lived in a forest village in eastern Austria, where his father worked as a lumber merchant.
A recent gift to the museum, Gross’s I Love My Baby (1948) is an outstanding example of direct carving from a single piece of hardwood. A master of the medium, Gross wrote the essential instructional resource on the subject, The Technique of Wood Sculpture (1957). The book features photographs by documentary photographer Eliot Elisofon. With I Love My Baby as a centerpiece of this focus exhibition, the artist’s process is examined through several preparatory drawings, Elisofon’s photographs of the artist at work, a selection of his tools, and a short film that follows Gross through the creation of a single sculpture.
Take a tour of the historic home, studio, and art collections of Chaim Gross and his wife Renee Renee.
Header image: Chaim Gross, I Love My Baby, 1948. Lignum vitae. Gift of Mimi Gross. Installation view, 2020.