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Martin Puryear in "Time"

Martin Puryear’s respect for age-old techniques and his knowledge of woodworking, masonry and non-western crafts are essential to the archetypal forms he creates. “I’m really interested in vernacular cultures where people lived a little closer to the source of materials…”

The artist tapped his carpentry skills to create Ladder for Booker T. Washington, a sculptural country ladder reaching 36 feet into the air.

The segment continues with Puryear on a visit to Northern California where he built a massive stone folly working with a team of masons, and to a stoneyard in China and a sculpture site in Japan, revealing the complex practical and artistic calculations that go into Puryear’s large-scale work.

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Martin Puryear

Martin Puryear’s objects and public installations—in wood, stone, tar, wire, and various metals—are a marriage of minimalist logic with traditional ways of making. Puryear’s evocative, dreamlike explorations in abstract forms retain vestigial elements of utility from everyday objects found in the world. In the massive stone piece, Untitled, Puryear enlisted a local stonemason to help him construct a building-like structure on a ranch in northern California. On one side of the work is an eighteen-foot-high wall—on the other side, an inexplicable stone bulge. A favorite form that occurs in Puryear’s work, the thick-looking stone bulge is surprisingly hollow, coloring the otherwise sturdy shape with qualities of uncertainty, emptiness, and loss.

“I’m really interested in vernacular cultures where people lived a little closer to the source of materials…”

Martin Puryear

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Artist Martin Puryear discusses his work’s connection to the history of abstraction and the inspiration for his 1996 installation piece, “Ladder for Booker T. Washington.”