Improving Nature:
Engineered Wood in Art & Design

Lower Level Galleries

May 28 – August 4, 2024


Inspired by the 100th anniversary of the invention of Masonite in Laurel in 1924, Improving Nature: Engineered Wood in Art & Design features historical and contemporary works created with wood technology. Masonite improves upon nature in that it is less likely than wood to crack and warp, and artists have taken advantage of those characteristics in using the material to produce artwork and furniture. Designers and artists have also used technologies like laminating and steam bending to produce shapes and forms that nature cannot. The exhibition is part of an ongoing series that uses the strengths of the Museum’s collection and Laurel’s history to make connections to contemporary art. Improving Nature: Engineered Wood in Art & Design features artwork from three centuries that show what can be achieved when nature and science come together.


Steam-bent furniture from America and Europe demonstrate wood technologies of previous centuries. This includes a Windsor armchair, a bentwood rocking chair by the German-Austrian furniture-maker Michael Thonet, and ornate rococo-revival style furniture from the New York makers John Henry Belter and Joseph Meeks. In the 20th century, plywood allowed furniture designers like Charles and Ray Eames flexibility in producing modern shapes, and wood turners and sculptors such as Michael Shuler and Floyd Shaman used laminated wood to produce beautiful artworks. Contemporary artists Adrien Segal and Joshua Abarbanel use wood technology to great effect, adding cutting-edge processes to their practice. Other artists in the exhibition include Mississippians Critz Campbell and Eric D. Charlton, Skokomish (Twana) artist Dennis Allen, and Chicagoan Norman Teague. These artists, as well as The Towers in Natchez, Mississippi, and the Museum for Art in Wood in Philadelphia, are lenders to the exhibition.



Thursday, May 30
5:30 pm
with Kristen Zohn, Curator of Collections & Exhibitions
6:30 – 7:30 pm




Image Credits:


Gebrüder Thonet (Austrian, 1853–1921), No. 3 Bentwood Rocking Chair, 1885, beech


Michael Shuler (American, born 1950), Bowl, 1988, segmented/laminated Brazilian tulipwood, holly, cocobolo, 1994, The Museum for Art in Wood Collection, donated by Neil & Susan Kaye, 2011.


Joshua Abarbanel (American, born in England 1966), Reef 12, 2023, stained and natural wood, courtesy of artist

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