Art Inspired by Nature: The Astonishing Work of Sculptor Michelle Holzapfel…

Michelle Holzapfel, Linfold Vase, Walnut Log, 2007

Michelle Holzapfel, Linfold Vase, 2007, carved from a single walnut log

Michelle Holzapfel, Black and White Bowl, 2003,Contemporary Museum HI

Michelle Holzapfel, Black and White Bowl, 2003, Contemporary Museum, Honolulu, HI

A couple of weekends ago, my new friends Michelle and David Holzapfel kindly accepted my request for an interview for The Gardener’s Eden, ‘Art Inspired by Nature’ series, and tour of their studio in southern Vermont. Although we have friends in common, and I have long admired their work, until a few short weeks ago I never had the opportunity to meet the Holzapfels in person. Sadly, this is often the case with artists. Constantly occupied with the creation of our own art and busy with the work of life and making a living, we can often be more separated by time than physical space. One of the great pleasures of this new weekly series, ‘Art Inspired by Nature‘, is the opportunity to meet other artists and make new friends. I hope that all of you are enjoying the scenic, natural art tour along the way. Although I originally intended to include the work of both Holzapfels in this week’s feature, it quickly became clear that this would not be fair to either artist. There is simply too much that I must share with you – and so, this installment will be revealed over the course of two weeks.

So, let me first introduce sculptor Michelle Holzapfel – this week’s featured artist inspired by nature. Michelle’s amazing artwork may be found in public collections including the Mint Museum, Charlotte, NC; the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, MA; the Museum of Art and Design, New York, NY; and many more public and private collections throughout the world. In addition, this month and throughout the coming weeks of November, Michelle Holzapfel’s work is on display in Los Angeles, California in a solo show at the del Mano Gallery. ‘Lost and Found‘ will be on view at the gallery from October 24 – November 21, 2009. If you are in the LA area, please stop by the del Mano Gallery to see Michelle’s incredible artwork. However, should you find yourself wandering the scenic roads of New England, a visit to the Applewoods Studio, (the Holzapfel’s personal gallery), for a look at both their work and process, is highly recommended…

Holzapfel studio forest birch trees

The paper birch grove in the forest beyond the Applewoods Studio

Michelle Holzapfel, Natural Pilgrim, 1991, Birch Burl

Michelle Holzapfel, Natural Pilgrim, 1991, Birch Burl

Many artists are inspired by nature, but for Michelle Holzapfel, nature is truly an inseparable part of her creative process. During my dialogue with the artist, I discovered that there are two distinct ways in which she works with her natural material of choice – wood. Sometimes Michelle will use softwood, (usually the woodcarver’s traditional basswood), to impose her own will upon the material. On these occasions, Michelle has a great deal of freedom to manipulate the wood according to her own plan, (and the end results often bear little resemblance to the original material itself). Other times, Michelle works with hardwood burls. This process is quite different, as hardwood burls are very dense and carry a will all their own. Finally in some of her more fascinating pieces, Michelle combines both types of material and processes to create modern masterpieces inspired not only by nature, but human struggles and triumphs as well.

For Michelle Holzapfel, the act of physically creating art always begins with natural materials. A great many of Michelle’s pieces, particularly her vessels, are made from hardwood burls. The burls Michelle uses come from trees native to the Northeastern United States; in fact most are harvested locally in Vermont. Perhaps you have noticed bulging areas on forest tree-trunks, when walking through the woods in autumn and winter, (see second photo below). These bulges, or burls as they are commonly called, are caused by a virus. As a tree develops, these wart-like growths, and the resulting fiber adaptations in the trunk or branch, form unusual patterns – beautiful, swirling lines in the wood. Michelle’s burls are collected, (often discovered by local woodsmen working in the forest), and air dried for years in a storage shed, until inspiration strikes and she brings them into her studio shop to begin  work…

Holzapfel studio burls

Michelle uses a chain saw to separate the burl from the log and to rough cut the form she envisions from the wood. If she is creating a bowl or vessel, Michelle works a hollow in the wood using a lathe. However, Michelle does not use a traditional wood-turners lathe – instead the tool she uses was actually intended for metalwork, and was built by her artisan father, Jean Baptiste Ovila Chasse…


Michelle’s chain saw and lathe, photo, © David Holzapfel, courtesy Applewoods Studio

From this point on, Michelle’s work may proceed in many directions, as vision and inspiration guide her. Her themes vary from the modern domestic to the roots of western civilization and Greek myth. Some of her pieces require the use of power tools including saws, grinders and/or traditional hand-carving tools, (see photos of her studio table below). Some works marry hardwood vessels with soft, intricately carved basswood components to form complex, richly textured sculpture. Other pieces incorporate sewing, pyrography, (‘tattooing’ or burning of the wood), bleaching, polishing, staining and/or painting, oiling, and even the inclusion of objects, such as the padlock worked into ‘Lockhart’, featured in the third photo below…

Michelle Holzapfel work studio

Holzapfel studio, Michelle's work room

Michelle Holzapfel, Lockhart, 2002, maple burl

Michelle Holzapfel, Lockhart, 2002, Maple Burl

As I walked through Michelle’s workspace, and the Applewoods Studio gallery room, I needed to constantly remind myself – “this is not paper, not fabric, not wicker, not yarn –  this is wood “. My inexperienced eyes were easily betrayed by the exquisitely manipulated objects set before me. Michelle is a rare artist. She is an accomplished, visionary sculptor with a unique, personal language, and a highly skilled master craftsperson. In today’s art world, this combination is near extinct. The time, discipline and dedication required to reach Michelle Holzapfel’s level of technical mastery is uncommon – and breathtaking to encounter. More than thirty years of self guided study and studio experience has given Michelle the skill and versatility to express her artistic vision in pieces that are both technically remarkable and freely, often playfully, executed…

Michelle Holzapfel, Aegina Bowl, 1993, Mint Museum, Charlotte, North Carolina

Michelle Holzapfel, Aegina Bowl, 1993, Mint Museum, Charlotte, North Carolina

Michelle Holzapfel, Four Panel Tatoo Vessel, 2007, Basswood, Pyrography, Gilding, Stiched with Waxed Linen Thread

Michelle Holzapfel, Four-Panel Tattoo Vessel, 2007, Basswood, Pyrography, Gilding, and Waxed Linen Thread

Holzapfel, Michelle detail of work

Detail of sewing on Michelle’s four-panel tattoo vessel

Michelle Holzapfel, Fibonacci Vase, 1991, Maple

Michelle Holzapfel, Fibonacci Vase, 1991, Maple

Michelle Holzapfel, Autumn, 2003, Walnut and Basswood

Michelle Holzapfel, Autumn, 2003, Walnut and Basswood

Michelle Holzapfel, Knitting Basket, 1993, Native Hardwoods and Ebony

Michelle Holzapfel, Knitting Basket, 1993, Native Hardwoods and Ebony

A visit to the Applewoods Studio is a delightful experience. Located on scenic Route 9 in Marlboro, Vermont, the artistic haven of Michelle and David Holzapfel is surrounded by natural beauty. The gardens and forest beyond their workspace also reflect this couple’s deep respect for the natural world and all of its beauty. A handmade gate swings open a wooden screen dividing public and private space – leading down a quiet corridor to a garden filled with perennials, sculpture and walls built by fellow-artist Dan Snow. A surprised and delighted expression on one of the backyard trees mirrored my own response when I spotted the glorious stand of paper birch lighting the Holzapfel’s meadow with amber colored foliage…

Holzapfel studio garden

Holzapfel garden

Holzapfel tree face

Holzapfel long birches

The Holzapfels introduced me to their work in an unhurried half-day filled with tea, homemade muffins and a garden walk. Sadly, I can not possibly do justice to Michelle’s talents, let alone cover the work of both artists, in this brief post, (I did quite a bit of whittling myself to edit this story down!). Michelle’s husband, David Holzapfel is also a remarkable artist and craftsperson – I will be sharing a bit about his creative process, along with photographs of his work in an upcoming post. Occasionally, these two artists create remarkable collaborative works. These pieces include stunning vessels, such as the two pictured below, (photographed by David in their beautiful birch stand). These one-of-a-kind pieces may hold autumn leaves, hydrangea, pussy willows, berry clad branches and other dried ornaments. The Holzapfels work may be seen and/or purchased at Applewoods Studio, open to visitors during studio hours listed on their website, and by appointment…

Vessel, Red Maple Burl, 10"h x 11 x 3"

Michelle and David Holzapfel vessel, red maple burl, 10″ x 11″ x 3″

David:Michelle Holzapfel vessel, spalted yellow birch, 14" x 8 x 4

Michelle and David Holzapfel vessel, spalted yellow birch, 14″ x 8″ x 4″


For further information about Michelle Hozapfel’s work and her process, or to inquire about purchasing or commissioning a work of art, please visit:

Michelle Holzapfel: Applewoods Studio

All photographs of Michelle Holzapfel’s work, and the collaborative piece, featured here were provided by Applewoods Studio, © David Holzapfel, and may not be used or reproduced without permission of Applewoods Studio, (see contact above).

Thank you Michelle and David for your kind and generous hospitality and new friendship.

All other photographs are copyright Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden and may not be used or reproduced without express written permission.

All content on this site, (with noted exceptions), is the sole property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be used or reproduced without permission. Inspired by something you see here? Please give credit where credit is due. It’s a small world and link-love makes for fond friendships. Stealing makes for bad dreams…


3 Replies to “Art Inspired by Nature: The Astonishing Work of Sculptor Michelle Holzapfel…”

  1. Michaela

    I have checked the post in Safari, Mozilla/Firefox and Internet Explorer and it reads correctly. If you are using another browser, one I am unfamiliar with, then I can not be sure if there is a problem. I am sorry you are having trouble reading this. Let me know if you can see it all when you use a different web browser. Or, please let me know the browser you are currently having trouble with.

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