American, b. 1941
Maquette for Meditation in a Beech Wood, c. 1995
9 1/8 x 10 5/8 x 6 3/4 in. (23.2 x 27 x 17.1 cm)
© Martin Puryear, courtesy Matthew Marks Gallery
Photo by Jeffrey Jenkins
Following his time in the Peace Corps in Sierra Leone from 1964 to 1966, Puryear traveled to Stockholm to study printmaking at the Royal Swedish Academy of Fine Arts. Outside of his classes, he honed his woodworking skills and gained an appreciation for Danish furniture-making for its ability to merge traditional craft with modernist production. 

When Puryear returned to Sweden to create a commission for the Wanås Foundation, he drew on a traditional vernacular building material, thatch, which had been used widely for roofing across Scandinavia. At the outset, several craftspeople that the artist approached for the project thought the shape of the work, an abstraction based on the form of a seated Buddha, was too complicated to achieve in the artist’s chosen medium, but he ultimately found an expert thatcher who was willing to collaborate. However, Puryear has asserted, “I did not do it to test the material, I did it to realize the form.”

Like many of Puryear’s other process models, the maquette for Meditation in a Beech Wood is functional in addition to being a preparatory study: Puryear sliced the model with a band saw in order to determine cross-sections, reassembled it, and created two subsequent models to show the form of the wooden armature that provided structural support to the thatching.