Matt Moulthrop says his MBA education has helped him market his artwork, which is entering the permanent collection of the Smithsonian.
Published on: 05-18-2011
Next year, Matt Moulthrop (MBA 2004) will have his turned-wood
vessels join those of his father and grandfather in the permanent art
collection of the Smithsonian American Art Museum in
Washington, D.C. The Moulthrops will become only the second family with three
generations of artists (after the Wyeths) featured in this collection.
Matt was recently invited to participate in the "40
Under 40: Craft Futures" exhibition of the Smithsonian's Renwick Gallery, which
will run from July 20, 2012 to Feb. 3, 2013. Now 34, Matt has clearly come a long way since he sold his
first pieces a decade ago. They were quickly snapped up in the first gallery to
show his work and demand has only increased.
"I was an overnight success, but it took 25
years," jokes Matt, who began learning the art of woodturning from his
grandfather, Ed, and father, Philip, when he was still a boy. "For a long
time, I didn't have any aspirations of selling the work. I did it just for
Matt has followed in the stylistic tradition of his father
and grandfather, using a lathe to turn logs into wood sculpture, often in the
form of highly polished vases and bowls. Through the use of the lathe and other
hand-forged tools, each piece created by Matt possesses a unique grain pattern
and color scheme. He commonly uses trees native to the South – wild cherry, box
elder, sycamore, white pine, red and silver maple – but he's created
commissioned works out of wood sent from as far away as New Zealand.
"Each tree has a story to tell," Matt says in the
book Moulthrop: A Legacy in Wood,
written by Kevin Wallace. "Wormholes convey past life, rings communicate
growth, and certain colors tell the story of death from lightning or blight. My
job is to tell the story in picture-book fashion, showing rather than talking,
extending the life of the tree rather than ending it."
Published in 2007 by Crescent Hill Books, the Moulthrop book visually
and verbally chronicles the evolution of this family art form. The tradition
began with Matt's grandfather, Ed, who enjoyed carving animals and figures out
of wood as a boy then progressed to smoking stands, dishes and platters after
getting his first wood lathe at age 16.
After completing his graduate studies in architecture at
Princeton, Ed taught physics for five years at Georgia Tech before becoming the
chief designer for Robert and Company. Throughout his career in architecture,
Ed continued to work with wood, finally deciding in 1972 that he was ready to
become a full-time wood artist. He became so renowned that wood-turning
enthusiast President Carter once surprised Ed with a short-notice visit at his
Ed's son, Philip, became interested in carrying on the
family wood-turning tradition after returning from the Vietnam War. He learned
the art while in law school, and for years balanced a legal career with woodturning
as his acclaim as an artist rose to the level of his father's. Philip quit practicing
law in 1996 to devote himself full-time to his art.
Philip's son, Matt, has worked full-time as a wood turner
since completing his MBA studies in 2004. Before entering the MBA program, Matt
worked for a year in wireless sales, but soon realized his passion lay with
woodturning. Despite his desire to
become a full-time artist, Matt felt it was necessary to complete his MBA
before diving into his chosen career path. "My MBA education has helped me in many ways," he says. "There
is definitely a business side to successfully marketing yourself as an
His family had
concerns about whether he'd be able to immediately sustain himself as a
full-time artist. However, Matt says, "By the time I graduated, I had
booked shows and was working to make enough pieces for them. The work was
His career has been successful enough that his wife, Amanda,
has been able to take the last four years off from her legal career to focus on
raising their daughter, Reed, since her birth. "We've been fortunate
during the recession," says Matt, who works out of a 1,500-square-foot
studio in the basement of his home in Marietta, Georgia.
Time will tell if his daughter is interested in learning
about wood turning. But Matt's own passion for this art form developing at an
early age. Growing up, he spent a great deal of time with his grandfather in
the studio, learning about wood and using tools. A framed photo hanging in
Matt's home shows him sitting in a giant tulipwood bowl created by his
Mastering the Art
While he was in college, Matt learned how to apply finishes
to the wood pieces. By the time he started graduate school, his skills had
developed to the point that he was able to help his grandfather, who was
suffering from a physically debilitating neuromuscular condition, complete his
last few pieces. Ed Moulthrop died in 2003.
While the Moulthrop name helped open doors for Matt early in
his career, it also raised expectations of the quality of artwork he'd produce.
Though his work resembles that of his father and grandfather, all three artists
have taken different approaches, Matt says. "There are distinctive
differences in our shapes," he explains. "As with handwriting, our
styles vary a great deal."
Today, Matt's work is sold in 11 galleries across the United
States, and he's been featured in numerous exhibitions. A variety of museum,
institutional, and private collections include his work. Two of his pieces are
housed in the Georgia Tech President's Office and College of Management Dean's
Suite. He's currently in the process of creating custom pieces commemorating
the 100th anniversary of the Georgia Tech Alumni Association from a red
elm tree that once lived in a garden outside the organization's building.