When a couple of us saw that there was to be a major retrospective of Tom Loeser’s work, “It Could Have Been Kindling” at the Museum of Wisconsin Art in West Bend, WI, we didn’t hesitate to make the long drive to visit the show – and Tom – as a collection of so many of his pieces in one setting is a rarity not to be missed. Tom is well known to us at Artful Home, a master artist and teacher at the University of Wisconsin. We have known him well over the years, and continue to represent talented artists like Sylvie Rosenthal who have come through his program here in Madison.

Loeser’s work is a clear example of art that can draw you in at a surface level for one reason and then twist your brain around and force you to think at another level entirely. Much of the work is quite colorful and can bring a smile when first glimpsed based on what appears to be its cleverness, but beneath the initial whimsy is both curiosity and precise engineering.

I am particularly drawn to Loeser’s double chairs, chairs which both represent and beg for conversations. When two people sit in one of the rockers, the behavior of one person has a direct effect on the other. As in a conversation, it takes a back and forth to make these rockers work.

Double Rocker Back to Back by Tom Loeser

Loeser is interested in conversations: what starts them, what keeps them going, isolation vs socialization, and his chairs allow us to explore Loeser’s interests and make them our own. That the chairs are beautiful and interestingly balanced is almost a given, such a given that in some of his later work he abandons completely making the chairs and instead the entire pieces are about the placement of found chairs to create conversation-making places.

In addition, Loeser’s boat forms fascinate. After working with two master boatbuilders to learn the craft, Loeser used the techniques to create boat-forms which answer the question: What might a boat look like if it could swim on its own? If a boat could move all by itself with no help from mankind, what might it need to look like?

Geodesic Aerolite Whitehall 12′ by Tom Loeser

These sensuous forms challenge our notions of movement while defining the spaces around them, forcing us to acknowledge how little we know of these forms which help us move across water like a fish.

The full range of work at the exhibit has been made public in a free downloadable exhibit catalog in case a trip to West Bend isn’t in your plans.