OMCA Displays J.B. Blunk’s Works

A master in design and craft, Blunk looked to the natural environment to inform his furniture, sculpture, jewelry, and other functional art now showing at OMCA.


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J.B. Blunk’s Inverness redwood home is considered one of his masterpieces.

Photo courtesy the Oakland Museum of California

Digital media and conceptual art may seem to have eclipsed traditional craftsmanship (as evidenced by the California College of Arts and Crafts rebooting itself a few years ago as California College of the Arts), but without getting into Marx-speak about alienated laborers, it’s good to be reminded that traditional-media artists can thrive, too. The Bay Area’s J.B. Blunk seems to have led such a charmed creative life, famed as a wizardly woodworker and ceramics artist who also ventured into stone, bronze, tapestry, and jewelry, and was equally adept at both fine and applied art.

His 1969 The Planet, a huge, circular redwood-burl sculpture and bench, constructed with the help of artist Bruce Mitchell, is an unforgettable synthesis of aesthetic form and tactile pleasure, and one of the Oakland Museum of California’s signature artworks.

A ceramics student at UCLA, Blunk trained (after his discharge from the Army after service in Korea) with Japanese master ceramists, returning to build a small home in a rural part of Inverness and to work as a carpenter, notably for the abstract Surrealist painter Gordon Onslow-Ford, who became a friend. Blunk’s soulful handmade furniture was carved from solid wood, using chainsaw, grinder, and chisel. The works appear to be grown rather than constructed, reflecting Blunk’s interest was in Japanese aesthetics—he had accidentally met Japanese-American artist and landscape artist Isamu Noguchi while in Japan—rather than the Bauhaus industrial design prevalent in the ’60s. When carved furniture became popular in the ’70s, Blunk learned joinery, to enrich his vocabulary of forms and methods, and gained national and international renown as a sculptor and designer (although some critics believe his masterpiece to be the redwood cabin he constructed between 1958 and 1962 overlooking Tomales Bay). Blunk died in 2002, but his work continues to be exhibited, in recent years appearing in San Francisco, Tokyo, Los Angeles, Palm Springs, Berkeley, New York City, and now OMCA. Tours of the OMCA exhibit are on alternate Saturdays at noon.

J.B. Blunk: Nature, Art & Everyday Life, through Sept. 9, Oakland Museum of California, 1000 Oak St., Oakland, 510-318-8453, MuseumCa.org.

This report was originally published in our sister publication, the East Bay Monthly

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