Art in Town

Art On Campus

To the North

Art in the Workplace

Art by the River

Art In Trenton

Other Galleries

Corrections or additions?

This story by Pat Summers was published in U.S. 1 Newspaper

on April 29, 1998. All rights reserved. A change was made on September

8, 2005.

Is It Rustic, Or Is It Magic?

Tall and reserved, at least on first meeting, with

an accent that gives away his New England origins, David (not


please!) Robinson gains animation talking about wood and what he does

with it.

His large landscape structures, including settees, arbors, gates,

and gazebos, are fixtures in places as far-flung as the Appalachian

Trail, Central Park, a Colorado ranch, and garden shows around the

country. From his studio in an industrial neighborhood in Trenton,

Robinson also turns out beds and headboards, chairs and benches. His

rustic furniture is both sturdy, as might be expected, and fanciful,

as might not be; sometimes it’s organic looking, sometimes geometric.

Invariably, it looks natural in its setting.

Robinson’s work, in all its variety, goes on exhibit at the Stony

Brook Gallery of the Stony Brook-Millstone Watershed Association in

Pennington from May 1 to June 13. The show opens with a reception

on Friday, May 1, from 7 to 8:30 p.m. A couple of the woodworker’s

sidelines will also be on view: his one-of-a-kind bird houses (more

aptly called bird mansions); and his "fine" or unrustic


often made with dark Brazilian wood.

"Rustic" can mean a range of different things. But for


think Adirondack. Think twig furniture. And think "functional

art" — one way Robinson’s work has been described. He uses

three or four basic woods, sometimes in combination, for his outdoor

pieces; and he may leave the bark on or remove it, or both. "Once

it’s outside, what you see is the silhouette, not the details,"

he says. Furthermore, "all woods eventually turn silver from the


Although the Victorian era is often associated with rustic furniture,

Robinson says "rustic" is a universal concept that applies

to many styles and time periods. Today’s range of rustic furniture

encompasses sandblasted and distressed pieces, as well as bent willow

and log constructions. It all has to do with the level of refinement

desired. For instance, a rustic arbor in his shop, soon to be


in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania, could have been left bark-covered or made

from milled lumber. That’s the range.

Lilac, rhododendron, and mountain laurel may not sound like key


of "rustic" furniture. But they are. Gnarled, curled, and

twisted branches from these shrubs add interest to small sections,

such as the backs of chairs. And Robinson adds a touch of finesse

to chair seats that few others do: he curves them, to be more


and accommodating to the human form. To appreciate the difference,

try sitting on a straight-slat chair without a cushion.

It all starts in the yard behind Robinson’s workshop,

an old red brick foundry off Clinton Street in Trenton, within sight

of the projected sports arena. Red cedar logs, about 12 feet long,

some with bark, some without, lie on the ground. Elsewhere in the

yard, curvy limbs of Osage orange, with sinuous and striped bark


lean against the building. Bins of wood slices and chunks, and bunches

of crooked bent twigs complete the picture.

This is Robinson’s raw material. Some of it comes from occasional

day-trips to Columbia County, New York, where he acquires the cedar.

He picks up other pieces trimmed from trees or gardens, and even from

vacant lots near his shop. "Character" is what he’s after:

the uniquely bent pieces, and those with burls and other


For instance, seen in cross-section, the red cedar logs often have

asymmetrical, clover-like shapes, the result of deep, vertical grooves

in the trunks.

Pointing to the cut end of a cedar log, Robinson differentiates


heartwood (at the core of the tree) and shorter-lived sapwood (on

the outside). And for his purposes, the more heartwood the better.

He knows which woods easily release their bark, and when, and whether

it’s best removed through power hosing. All this goes into


memories for tomorrow," as Robinson describes his mission.

He regards his finished products as "kind of magic,"


that from humble origins many of his pieces live out their days in

the lushest gardens of the poshest private estates. Owner since 1986

of Natural Edge, a full-service design and build firm, Robinson works

from both his own designs and those of other designers and landscape


Robinson makes his low-tech-looking furniture for the 21st century

in 21st century ways. He unapologetically uses modern tools and


asserting he’d be crazy not to, and he takes advantage of wood


too. "Scientists have been developing these treatments for wood,

so why not use them?," he says. "For awhile, I didn’t want

to have to breathe in this stuff, and I’d say wood’s naturally


But it does help the wood, so I use it, specifically where there’s


Reportedly hesitant to describe himself as an artist, Robinson


between work that’s "art" and pieces that result from his

just being a contractor — "a man with a chain saw, trying

to make money." Even so, earlier this month he spent a week as

"artist-in-residence" at Princeton’s Johnson Park School.

There he showed some 400 elementary schoolers how to make their own

"cedar men," which will figure in a school event later this

spring. His Stony Brook exhibition includes a two-session workshop

on how to build a rustic garden gate.

Aware that some parts of the trees he uses could be put to better

use than, for instance, firewood bundles, Robinson says if he were

ever to receive a grant, he’d use the time to explore ways of using

the whole tree — bark, chips, sawdust, and so on. For now, his

ongoing projects keep him too busy to do much more than look ruefully

into a barrel of trimmings that he’ll probably throw away eventually.

(He welcomed a reason to save cedar pieces for his residency at


Park School.)

Robinson was born in New Hampshire in 1953, one of three children.

He earned an industrial arts degree from San Francisco State


in 1979, and for about four years worked with a San Francisco


sculptor, working mostly in concrete. Here he met his wife, Abby


an architect, who now helps with the family business. They are the

parents of a son and daugher, ages 6 and 12.

Returning to the East Coast, Robinson worked with the New York City

Parks Department, where he gained familiarity with rustic structures,

helping to restore masonry bridges, stairs, walls, and gazebos in

Central Park, ultimately becoming director of restoration there. This

experience was a turning point in his career path, prompting him to

move into rustic wood-working exclusively and to start his own


Since then, Robinson’s work has been featured in picture books and

periodicals, and installed at numerous public sites, from the Biblical

Garden of the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, and the Central Park

Children’s Petting Zoo, in New York, to private homes and gardens

all over. Well, almost all over. Asked if the family’s home in


is stocked with her husband’s furniture, Abby says, "We’re a


like the shoemaker’s children. But I do have a spectacular dining

room table."

— Pat Summers

David Robinson: The Natural Edge, Stony Brook

Gallery ,

Stony Brook-Millstone Watershed Association, Pennington, 609-737-7592.

Opening reception for the exhibition of rustic furniture. Show runs

to June 13. Free. Friday, May 1, 7 to 8:30 p.m.

Located in the Watershed’s Buttinger Nature Center, gallery

hours are Wednesday to Friday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Saturday, 10 a.m.

to 4 p.m.

Build a Rustic Garden Gate, Stony Brook Watershed

Association ,

31 Titus Mill Road, Pennington, 609-737-7592. With woodworker David

Robinson. Second session is Saturday, June 6, at 9 a.m. Preregister.

$60. Wednesday, May 27, 7:30 p.m.

Top Of Page
Art in Town

DeLann Gallery, Princeton Meadows Shopping Center,


609-799-6706. "Here Comes the Sun" featuring paintings by

Gail Bracegirdle, Ruth Crown, Jim Grabowski, Ed Hicks, Phil Meade,

Bill Blank, and Sydney Anne Neuwirth, with sculpture by Stacie


To June 13. Gallery hours are Tuesdays to Saturdays, 11 a.m. to 6

p.m.; Friday, 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.; and by appointment.

The Firebird Gallery, 15 Witherspoon, 609-688-0775. A

new gallery specializing in the art of children’s folklore and


Russian-born illustrator Gennady Spirin shows 40 works from his


books. To May 2. Gallery hours are Tuesday to Sunday, 11 a.m. to 5

p.m., and by appointment.

Gratella Gallery at the Forrestal, 100 College Road East,

609-452-7800. "The Creative Lens," photographs by Robert A.

Parker. The gallery is open from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily. To May


Historical Society of Princeton, Bainbridge House, 158

Nassau, 609-921-6748. "Practical Photographers: The Rose Family

Studio," images from the awesome collection of 10,000 glass plate

negatives, dating from shortly after the Civil War to the early 1950s.

The Rose Studio was founded in Princeton in 1873 by Royal Hill Rose

whose commercial photography studio stood on Nassau Street through

three generations of family owners, until its closing in 1951. To

December 30. Free. Museum hours are Tuesday to Sunday, noon to 4 p.m.

Merwick Unit, Medical Center at Princeton, Witherspoon

Street, 609-497-4192. Oil paintings by Etzer Desir. Sales benefit

the Medical Center. To June 18.

Princeton International Art Exhibition, 19 Hulfish Street,

Palmer Square, 609-243-9663. A show and sale that benefits the


Education Foundation. Curated by Marsha Child Contemporary and Pringle

International Art, the show features painting, drawings, prints, and

sculpture by notable emerging artists from more than a dozen


To May 23. Exhibit hours are Thursday to Saturday, 10 a.m. to 9 p.m.;

Sundays 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Stuart Country Day School, Norbert Considine Gallery,

609-921-2330. Alumnae Art Show, works by 22 graduates, to May 10.

Gallery hours are Monday to Friday, 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Triumph Brewing Company, 138 Nassau Street, 609-924-7855.

Lambertville artist Annelies van Dommelen shows oils, watercolors,

and monotypes. To May 8.

Williams Gallery, 8 Chambers Street, 609-921-1142.


Digital Artist: Art, Abstraction, and Algorithms," a digital art

show featuring Charlotte Sommer-Landgraf, Manfred Mohr, and Roman

Verostko, each a pioneer in the field and all of whom develop their

own software programs to make their work. To May 16. Gallery hours

are Wednesday to Saturday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Top Of Page
Art On Campus

Art Museum, Princeton University, 609-258-3788.


in the Art and Painting of Late Imperial China," a world-class

landscape exhibition featuring works from the permanent collection,

the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Brooklyn Museum, and private


Also "Central Europe in Princeton: Old Master Drawings by Flemish

and German Artists from the Collection of the Art Museum." Both

shows to June 14.

Bernstein Gallery, Woodrow Wilson School, Princeton


609-258-4790. M.F. Husain’s "Chine Colles: Where Gods Roam."

Born in 1915, Husain is one of India’s best-known contemporary


His innovative lithographs, with Chinese rice paper overlays, explore

world religions, Indian mythology, human emotions, and nature. To

May 9.

Firestone Library, Princeton University, 609-258-3184.

"Sing Whatever is Well Made," an exhibition of Irish poetry,

celebrating the library’s acquisition of the Leonard Milberg ’53


of Irish Poetry, comprising more than 1,000 printed works by 50 poets.

To September 20.

The College of New Jersey, Art Gallery, Holman Hall,


Year-end show of student work. To May 6. Gallery hours are Monday

through Friday, noon to 3 p.m.; also Thursday 7 to 9 p.m.; and Sunday,

1 to 3 p.m.

Top Of Page
To the North

Museum of the American Hungarian Foundation, 300 Somerset

Street, New Brunswick, 732-846-5777. Victor Vasarely Retrospective,

an exhibition by the father of Op Art — "the pop of op"

— and pioneer of the development of every kind of optical device

for the creation of the new art of visual illusion. $2 donation. To

September 27. Museum hours are Tuesday to Saturday, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.;

Sunday, 1 to 4 p.m.

Quietude Garden Gallery, 24 Fern Road, East Brunswick,

732-257-4340. An outdoor contemporary sculpture gallery. New additions

to the stable of 85 sculptors include Sara D’Alessandro, Neal


Ralph Greco, Barbara Harrison, Cornelia Kavanaugh, Pat Lange, Jane

Schneider, and Donna Weiser. The outdoor venue remains open through


Jane Voorhees Zimmerli Art Museum, George and Hamilton

streets, New Brunswick, 908-932-7237. "Paul Robeson: Artist and

Citizen," a major show in observance of the centennial of the

birth of the Princeton-born scholar, athlete, singer, movie star,

and political activist. The multi-disciplinary show features 150 items

on loan from collections around the world. By placing Robeson’s life

within the context of American history during the first half of this

century, the exhibit interprets major themes of social, cultural,

and intellectual history. To July 31.

Also, "Riding the Wave: The Japanese Influence on the Depiction

of the Sea and Water in Western Art," to July 5. "Russia as

Seen by Foreign Travelers" to July 31.

Museum hours are Tuesday to Friday, 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.; Saturday

and Sunday, Noon to 5 p.m. Closed Mondays and major holidays.


$3 adults; free for members, children under 18, and Rutgers students,

faculty, and staff. Free on the first Sunday of each month.

Top Of Page
Art in the Workplace

The Gallery at Bristol-Myers Squibb, Route 206 and


Line Road, 609-252-6275. "Art Heals the Spirit: Creative Center

for Women with Cancer," a show of work by 21 professional women

artists with cancer. To May 25.

Founded in 1994, the Creative Center believes that while "medicine

may cure the body, art heals the spirit." Through workshops in

the visual, performing, and literary arts, it cultivates a creative

outlet and a community of support for women with cancer. Gallery hours

are Monday to Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Thursday to 7 p.m.; weekends

& holidays, 1 to 5 p.m.

Merrill Lynch Gallery, Merrill Lynch Corporate Campus,

800 Scudders Mill Road, Plainsboro, 609-282-1281. Newly dedicated

outdoor sculpture "Girl Chasing Butterflies" by Kristen


In the gallery, works by Louise Nevelson, Helen Frankenthaler,


Bartlett, Nancy Graves, and Pat Steir. Open seven days a week, 10

a.m. to 4 p.m. To be directed to the gallery, sign in at main


Stark & Stark, 993 Lenox Drive, Building 2, Lawrenceville,

609-895-7307. "Lenses & Light: Personal Perspectives," a joint

exhibition of photographs by the Princeton Photography Club and the

Princeton-Trenton Chapter of the Ennis Beley Project. Show continues

to July 17. Gallery hours are Monday to Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Free.

The Ennis Beley project, a national program that teaches the art and

business of photography to teens and preteens, began in this area

in 1997, supported by Young Audiences and HomeFront. It is named for

a young South Central Los Angeles teen with a gift for photography

who was slain in a gang shooting.

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Art by the River

Artists’ Gallery, 32 Coryell Street, Lambertville,


Taylor Oughton & Peter Petraglia. To May 3. Gallery hours are Friday

through Sunday, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Coryell Gallery, 8 Coryell Street, Lambertville,


Joanne Augustine’s floral watercolors, and Pamela Malabre Miller’s

pastel portraits, still life, and landscapes are featured. To May

31. Gallery hours are Wednesday to Sunday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Riverrun Gallery, 287 South Main Street, Lambertville,

609-397-3349. "Body Language," an exhibition of portraits

by the Lambertville artist Paul Matthews. A graduate of Cooper Union,

his subject is people, their relationships, attitudes, and psyches.

To May 3. Gallery hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily; Sunday, noon

to 5 p.m. Closed Tuesday.

Top Of Page
Art In Trenton

New Jersey State Museum, 205 West State Street, Trenton,

609-292-6464. Mel Leipzig Retrospective, a major retrospective show

by the Trenton realist painter and MCCC faculty member featuring more

than 60 works made from 1950 to the present. To June 28.

Family, friends, and everyday life are Leipzig’s central themes. He

does not offer up allegory, political agenda, or myth. Instead he

presents the viewer with domestic genre scenes, images of people and

moments that are unseen, ignored, or considered commonplace.

"My paintings are done by working directly from life. I never

work from photographs," says Leipzig. "I feel that the use

of photography would dilute my feelings and undermine my


His models include his wife, Mary Jo, children Francesca and Joshua,

as well as students and friends.

Also an exhibition of 12 sculptures by Walt Swales who teaches at

Montclair State. He works with welded steel and rock to create minimal

works that draw upon universal symbols and signs. To May 10.

Also "New Jersey’s Dinosaur Turnpike: Treks Through New Jersey’s

Piedmont" uses maps, fossil specimens, minerals, and models to

explore the rise of dinosaurs to become the largest and most


animals on Mesozoic Earth. Two hundred million years ago, deeply


in the interior of a giant supercontinent, New Jersey was a crossroads

for early dinosaur migration to and from such far-off regions as


Renowned for its fossils, the red sediment of the Piedmont contain

footprints of early dinosaurs as well as fossilized evidence of other

prehistoric life.

Museum hours are Tuesday to Saturday, 9 a.m. to 4:45 p.m.; Sunday,

noon to 5 p.m.

Top Of Page
Other Galleries

The Eurogallery, 37 West Broad Street, Hopewell,


Bronze sculptures, paintings, and porcelain by Hungary’s Laszlo


whose works can be found in the Vatican, the Smithsonian, and the

White House. Also bronzes by Charles McCollough, and paintings by

Karen Pauline and Janet Purcell. Hours are Tuesday to Saturday, 10

a.m. to 7:30 p.m, Sundays 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Montgomery Cultural Center, 1860 House, 124 Montgomery

Road, 609-921-3272. "Fact and Fiction," a show of opposites

featuring nationally exhibited artists Stephen Guild, Ayshe Ozbekhan,

Madelaine Shellaby, and Leyla Spencer. In the Upstairs Gallery,


Artists Group members’ show features Jane Adriance, Connie Gray, and

Darlene Prestbo. Both shows to May 2. Gallery hours are Tuesdays to

Fridays, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.; Sundays, noon to 4 p.m.

Printmaking Council of New Jersey, 440 River Road,


908-725-2110. Work by 30 student printmakers and photographers from

Middlesex County College and William Patterson University. To May

15. Gallery hours are Wednesday to Friday, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.; and

Saturday, 1 to 4 p.m.

Skidmore Art Consultants Gallery, One Airport Place, Route

206, 609-924-1875. Lorraine Skidmore, a consultant to corporate and

private art collections for 15 years, opens a gallery space with a

show of new works by Patricia Davis-Ganek. To May 8. Gallery hours

are Thursday to Saturday, 1 to 4 p.m., and by appointment.

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