Visual Arts

Artist turns Art League’s elegant Loudoun House into wood shop

Lexington Art League artist-in-residence J. Daniel Graham at his handmade work bench in the Loudoun House Gallery. Graham will be featured at this week’s Fourth Friday Party, and his exhibit “The Less You Say” will open in late August. It will feature works he created over the summer.
Lexington Art League artist-in-residence J. Daniel Graham at his handmade work bench in the Loudoun House Gallery. Graham will be featured at this week’s Fourth Friday Party, and his exhibit “The Less You Say” will open in late August. It will feature works he created over the summer. rcopley@herald-leader.com

At the Lexington Art League’s Loudoun House gallery, it’s obvious that J. Daniel Graham has taken the the last two words of his title, artist-in-residence, seriously.

Parked in the middle of one of the front rooms is his hand-built work bench, with wood glue and drinks spread among small cut-out pieces, small hammers and hand planes. His handmade tool box and saw rack, with several custom-built saws, sit on the mantle, and other tools and pieces of his projects are set out on Loudoun House shelves. The floor is scattered with shavings and saw dust.

That’s exactly how the Art League wanted it.

“We want the residency to feel like, you know some days you come in and there’s banana nut bread in the kitchen, we’ll sit and have lunch together, because that’s the kind of nurturing aspect of the organization that for us is of utmost importance,” Art League director Stephanie Harris says. “We can link in with an artist we know ... and the end result is not dictated by anyone. That’s the kind of experience that, as an artist, is not found regularly.”

Graham, associate professor and chair of the Georgetown College department of art, is a great fit for the project, Harris says, because of his use of traditional tools and methods of woodworking. He has been working in the house since June, even welcoming visitors Tuesdays through Thursdays. He will wrap up in mid-August, just in time for the start of school, and an exhibit of the work he has done, “The Less You Say,” will open Aug. 26. Folks who want to see how the work is going and meet Graham can come to this month’s Fourth Friday party at the Loudoun House.

“It is a space that was built to inspire people,” Harris says. “The architecture itself, I don’t care how much time goes by, maintains that bold elegance. It’s a space that supports creative discovery really well.”

As Graham made himself at home, he hasartistically submitted himself to the space. Graham says artists often create installation works — art designed for a specific space — by imposing their idea on the space.

“I saw this as an opportunity to do just the opposite, to come into this space that I know very well and say, ‘What do you want to do?’ to involve the space in a conversation more than myself,” Graham says. “So a lot of the ideas that are in here are not inspired by some idea that I had, but some history that the house had.

“The title of the show, ‘The Less You Say,’ is to that point, to walk into a space and say, ‘How about I listen for a while.’”

Graham got to know the history of the house and has gone about creating works that speak of how those rooms functioned when the Loudoun House was a home. The most complete part of the project is a back gallery boasting a circle of library ladders to reach books on ceiling-high bookshelves. Putting up the display forced Graham to get to know the house even more intimately, mapping out joists and walls in the basement so he could drill holes to make the ladders stand mid-floor.

That’s not to say Graham is beholden to the history of the house for his work. Some rooms are more driven by what he thinks they could be than what they are.

“I’m not interpreting history, but I’m re-imagining history,” Graham says.

Graham has been orienting Art League employees, and anyone else interested enough to come in, to his own craft and tools, which extend to the very tools and surfaces he uses. His handmade saw rack includes several saws he made himself. His handmade tool box includes a pop-out box with a natural marking that resembles the state of Kentucky. And his workbench is an ensemble of pieces that snap together — some with the encouragement of a hammer — to create his primary work area.

When “The Less You Say” opens, guests will see those tools displayed in a room Graham considers entirely appropriate.

“Based on the architecture, my assumption is that it was a servant’s quarters of some kind,” Graham says of the small room off one of the front rooms. “It’s close to the kitchen, it has its own entrance, and that’s how I’ve seen myself in some ways, as a servant of the house.”

If you go

J. Daniel Graham

▪  “In Residence”: Wood artist J. Daniel Graham is working on an installation project at the Lexington Art League’s Loudoun House Gallery, 209 Castlewood Drive. Gallery hours are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tues.-Thurs. Fourth Friday party, 6-9 p.m. July 22. Admission is $5. Coffee and Conversation, 10 a.m. July 27. Free.

▪  “The Less You Say”: Installation exhibit by J. Daniel Graham. Aug. 26-Sept. 23. Opening 7 p.m. Aug. 26. Closing Fourth Friday party, 6-9 p.m. Sept. 23. $5.

Online: Lexingtonartleague.org, Jdgraham.net

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