Artists breathe new life into wooden forms from the 1970s

Sacramento artist William Ishmael, 68, saw more than dusty pieces of wood in four boxes that were presented to him – he saw an opportunity to repurpose them for art.

The boxes were filled with intricate wooden forms from the 1970s and earlier at the foundry museum at McClellan Air Force Base. Ishmael recognized the quality of work dedicated to these wooden pieces and assembled a group of more than 30 artists to help him bring the rich-colored maple, mahogany and teak wooden molds back to life.

“Everyone did their own special approach to it,” Ishmael said. “It’s incredible.”

The historic wood’s original purpose was for metal casting, Ishmael said. The pieces featured in the exhibit were used for metal objects such as grate covers, pipes, valves and aircraft.

The “Repurposing Wood” exhibit will be displayed until June 29 at the Sacramento Temporary Contemporary Gallery on Del Paso Boulevard. It features various mixed-art that utilizes the wood molds. Fifty percent of the artists’ proceeds will be donated to the Sacramento Tree Foundation’s Urban Wood Rescue Program.

Day after day, participating artists dug through the big boxes of timber at the Sacramento Tree Foundation, said Ray Tretheway, 66, the foundation’s executive director. Some artists came back to return what they didn’t use, and these pieces were soon picked up by another crafty artist.

“It really had a popularity to it,” Tretheway said. “About 99 percent of the wood was used.”

Sacramento artist Steve Hamm, 47, was the last artist on the project and was stuck with whatever was left at the bottom of the box.

“Fortunately for me, what was leftover for me were wonderful pieces,” Hamm said.

With those leftovers, he created the centerpiece of the exhibit: an 8-foot rustic robot named “Maynard.” Gallery-goers looked at the wooden robot in awe of how the artist revived the natural appeal of the wood.

“All these pieces, I didn’t paint any of them,” Hamm said. “I just brought them back to life.”

The wood was originally housed at Technikon’s McClellan Air Force Base facility before it was closed, said James Simonelli, 39, of El Dorado Hills, executive director for the California Metals Coalition.

The coalition operated a foundry museum at the McClellan facility.

Simonelli said he knows the original wood forms well, and admires how artists have revived them. .

“For us, we applaud them for finding another phase of life for manufacturing,” Simonelli said. “I think it’s great.”

Technikon CEO Bill Walden, 69, of Fair Oaks, discovered the original four boxes filled with the now repurposed wooden pieces while housing the California Foundry Foundation.

“I took the box home and it had been in my garage attic for a very long time,” Walden said.

After the box sat in his attic for decades, Walden asked Julia Burrows, 48, of Sacramento, who was the CEO of Greenwise Joint Venture at the time, if she knew how the molds could be reused.

“This is the legacy of how the McClellan Air Force Base worked,” Burrows said. “Someone had the foresight to not bundle everything together and throw it away.”

Burrows, vice president for Enable Energy, connected Walden and Ishmael, who knew how to bring these pieces back to life.

“There’s pieces where they look like pretty boring shapes, and they made them very alive,” Burrows said. “I think you can find inspiration, even in the most mundane things and in things that may have been in storage since the 1970s.”