North Carolina designer and sculptor Ellie Richards explores the intersection of work and play in her eclectic creations.
The artist: Born in Greenbelt, MD, Richards grew up outside of Erie, PA in the small lakeside town of Girard. She received a BFA from University of Dayton (Ohio) in studio art and art education and an MFA in wood sculpture from Arizona State University.
After completing her MFA, she traveled across the country to do residencies and teach. She is now doing a three-year residency at the Penland School of Craft in Penland, NC.
In the beginning: Richards’ grandfather and great-grandfather had backgrounds in forestry sciences and maintained their own home wood shops where they honed their own sense of craft in wood. She grew up using the furniture they made but never working with them. However, many of the hand tools she uses daily were passed down to her from them. Richards came to medium of wood later through art school and some special mentors.
The company/studio: Ellie Richards Studio is currently based at the Penland School of Craft. She works out of the historic Barns Studio Complex, which houses seven other resident artist studios that are open to the public.
The art & materials: Commissioned furniture; sculptures out of old brooms; carved, geometric table-top totems; and vessels for floral arrangements. Richards’ work includes found objects, reclaimed materials, painterly surfaces and carved elements.
Favorite tool: The bandsaw, which allows for the free-form style she has developed over the years.
- Individual broom sculptures, in bold colors and patterns, from the Broom Time series ($300 and up). The sculptures are inspired by a person or place.
- The Endless Column Collection of individually carved wood sculptures (ranging from a set of three for $325 to a set of 10 for $890). Made of a variety of domestic hardwoods, the sculptures are treated with a stain that darkens the wood’s natural color.
Other favorites: “Play Hard,” a recent series that included a mashup of DIY garage tools and ubiquitous toys found at thrift shops ($190 to $1,200).
Inspirations: Many, including:
- Bauhaus curriculum, Brutalist architecture, post-minimalism and abstract expressionism.
- Modernists, including Willem de Kooning, Joan Mitchell, Ruth Asawa, Helen Frankenthaler, Louise Nevelson and H.C. Westermann.
- American Studio Furniture artists who took on whole living spaces: Wharton Esherick, Tommy Simpson and Jon Brooks.
Fun, special or unusual requests/commissions: An outdoor interactive display of 10 motion-sensored, illuminated chairs on display along the Charlotte Rail Trail.
Big break(s) or a series of little breaks:
- A full fellowship residency at Anderson Ranch Arts Center (CO).
- A technician position at Peters Valley School of Craft (NJ).
- A residency at Appalachian Center for Craft (TN).
- Her positions as both a studio coordinator and resident artist at Penland.
- International Wood Culture Society for a research fellowship.
- Nathan Cummings Foundation travel grants that allowed her to travel abroad to study woodworking in other cultures.
Honors: Three-year artist residency at Penland (2020-2023).
What’s new: Lighting, vessels, mirrors and clocks.
- American Craft Council’s Atlanta/Southeast Craft Week.Online, Sept. 20-26. In person, Sept. 23-25, at Atlanta’s Buckhead Village. For details, visit: org/show/season/atlantasoutheast-craft-week
- A research fellowship at Winterthur Museum (Delaware) in October to study and record information on its extensive furniture collection.
- Continuing as resident fellow at The Furniture Society, working to develop deeper community-based connections using furniture and hand skills through the “Craft for a Greater Good” program in Asheville.
Where to buy:
- Penland Gallery, Penland
- Hodges Taylor Gallery, Charlotte
Get social at:
- Instagram: @ellieinthewoods, @penlandresidentartists and @broomtime