Take a step into Jeff Grassie’s antique farmhouse in Haverhill and you will be surrounded by hand-carved guitars, polished sculptures made from salvaged materials, and multi-textured wooden sculptures hanging on the wall like paintings. The scent of knotty pine floats around his display room. The blinds on the windows are open, and natural sunlight beams down on the blond and brown wood within.
You might wonder how Grassie, an artist, became so fixated on wood. In his youth, he attended a vocational high school for carpentry. Though he has taken only a few art classes and was not a fine arts major in college, Grassie came to master the art of “reading the wood.” He can look at the naturally formed wood grain and see faces, birds and other images concealed within the natural patterns. “I’ll spend an hour in a hardware store looking through the pieces of cabinet-grade birch plywood, flipping piece after piece until I can see something in the grain. A lot of the art is already in the wood grain, my job is to enhance it,” Grassie says.
Grassie’s interest in carpentry and art first merged in 1997, when he decided to carve a stock guitar that he had under his bed. So far, he has carved a total of five guitars. His latest, “Predator,” features sharp zigzagging patterns across the entire body of the instrument, including the back and sides. These endeavors have prompted him to experiment with wood in other ways.
Grassie has developed a unique take on an art form that involves the use of wood, metal and other salvaged materials to create carved and glossed sculptures. The style is exemplified in his most recent work, a piece dedicated to the victims of the Boston Marathon bombings. He calls it “Invincible.”
Grassie was tasked by Mim Brooks Fawcett, the chief curator and executive director of the Attleboro Arts Museum, to come up with this commemorative work, and, at first, the challenge seemed impossible. Grassie desperately sought a piece of wood that would appropriately reflect the events of April 15, 2013. A few weeks into his search, he was close to giving up, until he found a forgotten slab of wood hidden behind his living room couch. The wood grain naturally traced a helmet. Grassie used this to shape the wood into a helmeted woman in a wheelchair, with bent metal and glass trailing her and signifying the bomb that threatened to derail her life. “The woman is looking ahead, focusing on the heart. She knows if she looks back, she’s going to fall into the ruts that are carved underneath her,” Grassie says.
Grassie is looking forward to a busy 2018. “Invincible” will be featured at the Attleboro Arts Museum from April 10 through May 5. He also will participate in a two-day solo exhibit on May 17 and 19 from 2-9 p.m. at Willow Spring Vineyards in Haverhill. The show will feature multiple works from Grassie, including his carved guitars, salvaged material sculptures and hanging wooden wall sculptures.
Grassie’s works can inspire people to look at wood a little differently. “I’ve recently inspired some of my friends to look long and hard at their wooden floors,” he says. “I tell them if you see a shape or subject, chances are there will be more around.” Art is all around us. For many of us, it may be in our own homes, just one footstep away.