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Turning Strange brings together carved wood sculptures from the last 20 years of Maine sculptor Duncan Hewitt’s career. Born on Long Island in 1949, Hewitt attended Colby College and later returned to Maine after receiving his MFA from the University of Pennsylvania in 1975. He taught sculpture at the University of Southern Maine for more than 40 years and has presented his work throughout New England. Although the PMA has included Hewitt’s sculptures in two Biennials and two group exhibitions, this installation marks the first large-scale presentation of Hewitt’s work at the museum and the sculptor’s first major solo exhibition. Spanning the third floor contemporary art gallery, the exhibit introduces new audiences to Hewitt’s beautifully formed and enigmatic objects.
Turning Strange takes its name from Alice Munro’s 1968 short story, “Walker Brothers Cowboy.” In her narrative, Munro uses the phrase to describe the gloaming—a moment suspended between day and night, when familiar landscapes and objects transform from the stuff of the everyday into obscure and shifting presences. The spectral quality that dusk can bring aptly describes Hewitt’s career-long practice of remaking seemingly mundane objects into works that are at once recognizable and unfamiliar.
Throughout his career, the artist has refashioned forms that carry emotional weight in his own life: pairs of ice skates broken in through a lifetime of playing hockey, a ski mask worn through frigid Maine winters, a fire screen modeled on the one that stands in front of his own stove. Hewitt reimagines domestic items such as forks, bike-tire tubes, or mattresses─things that are overlooked in daily routines, but are nonetheless constantly in contact with the human body. The sculptor’s works do not depict human beings, but the series of drawer pulls painted the color of flesh or the life-size pink mattress conjure an absent person.
Hewitt works primarily in wood and his sculptures show the evidence of the artist’s tools with visible incisions and marks. He often paints his forms to create alluring and complex surfaces such as the mottled tones and notched surfaces on his red and brown windshields. Several works also incorporate original articles alongside carefully crafted recreations. Hewitt has included metal fire screens alongside carved copies and has positioned glass windshields in conversation with their carved wood counterparts. These juxtapositions make evident the immense time and attention that Hewitt affords his reconstructed forms.
Duncan Hewitt’s sculptures are ciphers for particular moments in his own life. Yet the artist also depicts objects of potential significance to many of his viewers. Hewitt's fashioning of a window with a billowing curtain, for instance, replicates one that stood across from his bed for years. Hewitt’s carved and painted reproduction, while specific to his own memory of this architectural feature, is deliberately plain, so that the basic structure might spark any number of resonances with the viewer. Hewitt’s sculptures are the residue of his own emotional processing, but they simultaneously afford audiences the opportunity to consider their own attachments to the material world.
Circa is a series of exhibitions featuring the work of living artists from Maine and beyond. Generously supported by S. Donald Sussman.