A former dairy farmer who had worked with wood all his life, Dunphy turned to fine crafts in 1981.
New Brunswick artisan Gordon Dunphy, whose wood-turned vessels are held in collections in Canada and abroad, died in hospital Thursday after a battle with cancer. He was 74.
He turned stumps and burls into smooth, often paper-thin vessels that were collected by the British Royal Family, the premiers of Canada and the Bronfman Claridge Collection. A former dairy farmer who had worked with wood all his life, Dunphy turned to fine crafts in 1981.
“My mid-life crisis maybe, that time in your 40s. I was a dairy farmer, and I wanted to do something else,” he once told CBC from his home in the Nashwaak River Valley. “Friends took me to craft shows, and for the first time I met artists, and I got really, really interested and I decided to make the change.”
Dunphy never received formal training, but set himself up in a studio in Taymouth, N.B. He soon developed a reputation for creating eloquent turned wood pieces that showed off distinct characteristics of the original material.
” This is what’s important to try to catch — that spirit that trees have, especially big old hardwood trees, and if I can catch that and make it look simple, the best forms are those that look as if they just happened,” he said.
Dunphy knew how to find the best bird’s-eye maple, and kept his eye out for burls, which formed some of his most striking works.
” When the cells start to grow faster than the tree itself, and it .. usually a protruding growth on the tree itself. And often, not always, but often, it’s a beautiful grain in colour,” he said. His ability to find great beauty in a common, classic piece of New Brunswick nature, the hardwood tree, had huge appeal.
Within a decade of beginning his artistic career, he was being showered with awards and became one of the most decorated artists in the province. He twice received the New Brunswick Crafts Council Premier’s Prize. He also won the Deichmann Award for Excellence in Craft and, in 2002, the Strathbutler Award for Excellence.
A quiet and unassuming man, Dunphy was active in the crafts community in New Brunswick, serving on juries and mentoring other artisans. Ingrid Mueller of the Arts + Concepts gallery says he brought a distinct Maritime flavour to his work.
“He always worked with trees that were from New Brunswick … so there was a lot of bird’s-eye maple, cherry and elm. So he respected every kind of wood; I don’t think he had a favourite,” she said.