Wood Sculptor bruce fransen sees the rhythms in natural forms.
Written by David gignilliat
Spanning more than 50 years, the LinkedIn profile of Harpers Ferry resident Bruce Fransen lists just three jobs: Musician. Sculptor. Arborist. A tidy summary of labors and loves.
Fransen grew up along the water in Long Island, New York, before moving to Frederick, Maryland, in 1972, bringing his eclectic mix of talents with him. He worked as an arborist and pursued his love of music, playing clarinet, flute, and jazz saxophone as leader of the Bruce Fransen Quartet. Eventually, he began applying his improvisational impulse to the wood he admires, becoming one of the region’s most talented wood sculptors.
In 2005, Fransen began showing at events such as the prestigious American Craft Council’s annual show. That exposure eventually led to gallery placement at Tamarack Gallery in Beckley and numerous other opportunities across the region, including The Greenbrier. “I started to get feedback that I was producing good work,” he says. “Up until then, I did art mostly for my enjoyment. Then, after my retirement, I really decided to get more serious about it.”
Fransen starts a sculpture with the tools of the arborist—a log and a chainsaw. He often uses cherry and maple woods sourced from West Virginia. As his artistic concept takes shape, he refines it using conventional tools and others of his own design, like a guitarist who might play a string with a violin bow to hear the note from a different perspective. He sees similarities between music and sculpture: rhythm, repetition, tension and release, and overall composition. And, indeed, his works are polished like a piece of music, sanding down roughness and adding post-production shine.
Art is about an artful way of life, for Fransen. “The process of making art is as much about looking, seeing, and feeling as it is about doing,” he says. His latest work is his “Colony” series, characterized by multiple chambers or pockets that are attached to one another as in beehives, coral, or other natural groupings. He wants his works to be interactive, and he encourages his clients to move them around, make his pieces their own.” “I want to see what people do with them. says. “The art is always evolving.”