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Sophia Dress Archives – The Provincetown Independent

Sophia Dress Archives – The Provincetown Independent


On a table at Sophia Dresss Truro studio are about half a dozen wooden objects carved from walnut wood. It is not obvious how to classify them. Concerning the size of the platforms, they are on a national scale. In some cases, abstract shapes rise gently from the wooden slabs, almost resembling modeled clay. In others, the forms lie beneath the surface, carved in various patterns.

Sophia Dress in her Truro woodworking workshop in front of a piece made with slats salvaged from a 19th-century house in Boston. (Photos by Agata Storer)

These pieces are beautiful enough to hang on a wall, their shapes suggesting the sculptures of Henry Moore and motifs found in Islamic or African art. At the same time, they look like they could be designed to hold nuts, olives, or a whole range of cheeses.

Dress welcomes the idea that his work occupies this ambiguous territory between fine art and functionality. The pieces are always meant to be sculptural but functional, she says. I love this wedding.

Prototype chowder spoons made for Twenty-Eight Atlantic.

She pulls a handful of wooden spoons from a shelf, prototypes made when chef Anthony Cole asked her to create the right utensil for a chowder dish he was creating at Twenty-Eight Atlantic, the restaurant from Wequassett Resorts.

He wanted to have a wooden spoon that echoed the idea of ​​a primitive tool, Dress said. For something that seems simple, there were a lot of things to consider. There were practical issues: It had to fit both right-handed and left-handed people, match the size of other eating utensils, and be large enough to hold a whole clam. Then there was the aesthetic: we wanted the spoon to sit on the table and be a beautiful, space-saving sculpture, she says.

Presented on its workbench, the final version is both sensual and sober, with soft curves and a natural wood finish.

I'm a stickler for always using hand tools, says Dress.

Dress considers herself equal parts designer, carpenter and artist. It scales easily between large orders and small office projects. A piece hanging in his studio is representative of his large-scale work: a rectangular abstract composition, almost like a wooden quilt. For this piece, she used flat strips of wood used as a foundation for plaster walls and sourced from a Boston house built in the 1800s.

I wanted to highlight the variation in markings and color, she says. Arranged in concentric squares, the imperfect wood tells the story of the materials' use and survival after a fire, as evidenced by the black soot marks. For most of her pieces, Dress uses found wood or scraps that she obtains from carpenters.

Dress has also worked on large-scale projects for the Great Awakening Coffee House in Hyannis, where she created a 26-foot-long wooden countertop made of rhythmic waves, and for Vivs Kitchen in Orléans, where she built a wall of planters with recessed boxes. I love playing with different scales, she says.

Sophia Dress at work on a sculpture in her Truro studio.

Making smaller sculpted works can be tedious, she says: If I just worked on complex sculpted pieces, I would lose my mind and my hands.

Dress usually begins developing compositions and drawings in her sketchbook. Next, she draws on a piece of wood, then begins to carve the pattern with a set of vintage hand tools. I'm a stickler for always using manual tools, she says. The beauty of woodworking is that it is a slow process. I like to have a connection with the material and take my time to get to know a piece of wood and its nuances.

Dress tries out different designs in her sketchbook before committing to a final piece.

In a way, the objects seem timeless, as if they were natural shapes shaped by erosion. Yet they also seem to convey a sense of devotion, as if they have been caressed into shape. I'll sand an individual piece until you can't see any scratch marks from my work, Dress says. I like it to look simple, like the item has always been there.

His sanding gloves are a testament to his efforts. Currently, she only has two gloves left on her left hand, both thumbs worn from sanding, a process that begins with 60-grit sandpaper and can end with super-fine 600-grit.

A tray, perhaps, carved from walnut wood.

The last step is to coat your objects with a finish using wax and edible oil. It's such a rich color, she says, spreading the finish on a recent walnut sculpture. The process also reveals lighter passages in the piece. I love catching the sapwood, she says of these passages.

Dress, who grew up in Chatham and currently lives in Harwich Port, was exposed to art from a young age. The whole house was a painting studio and a sculpture studio, she said. His father, Craig Phillips, is a carpenter and often took him to job sites.

A sculptural work in progress.

In 2013, she collaborated with her father to create a driftwood bar for his wedding reception. People were asking if they could buy it, she remembers. Afterwards, she continued to work with driftwood, then collected wood and scraps from cuttings. She set up a studio and gallery in Dennis Port, where she sold her pieces for six years before closing during the pandemic.

Now Dress shares a workshop at Truros Tradesmens Park. I am very happy to be here, she said. In it, stacks of carefully collected boards wait to be reinvented. What she does with it will depend on how it looks and feels.

Wood is visually beautiful, she says, but you also want to touch it. What she likes is that it can take so many different forms.




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