Woodworker commissioned to realize an artist’s vision

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | Mattituck woodworker Will Paulson working last month on a sculpture called ‘Balance.’ The black walnut wood was taken from a tree on Riverhead’s East Main Street.

For a sculptor, being able to hold a chisel and hammer is of the utmost importance, but that’s exactly what Center Moriches artist Avital Oz can’t do.

“I was right-handed before I suffered a stroke about a year and a half ago and am now left-handed,” Mr. Oz said, “But I still am unable to hold a chisel in one hand and a hammer in the other.”

This conundrum led Mr. Oz to commission his newest work, “Balance,” to Mattituck woodworker Will Paulson.

“I conceived the sculpture and drew a colorful sketch of it using pencil and charcoal with as much detail as possible of what I envisioned the piece to be,” Mr. Oz said. “I do not leave my babies with just anyone. Will was chosen by me to create the work by hand because I respect very much his ability, talent and experience with wood. He listened to me very carefully when we initially discussed the piece and, of course, I’ve been visiting every step of the way.”

Mr. Oz, who turns 70 next month, was born in Palestine — or as he puts it, “Israel before it was called Israel,” which occurred in 1948, when he was 5 years old.

“I met him many, many years ago and he worked for a little while with me in East Quogue,” Mr. Paulson said of Mr. Oz, adding that the two reconnected last fall at an art show.

“He’s been a sculptor forever and when he asked me in December if I would fabricate a statue for him, I said I’d be happy to. It’s always a challenge to make something for someone else who has a vision and trusts you to understand what they’re looking for. I started the piece by making a small clay model of it, which he approved.”

The piece, a 10-foot-long spiraling piece of wood, was sculpted from a black walnut tree in Riverhead’s East Main Street area.

Mr. Paulson said his friend, an excavator from Mattituck, alerted him last year that the tree would be coming down and later brought it to Mr. Paulson’s shop in a dump truck.

The base of the sculpture is made from a 200 year-old Elm tree from Southold’s North Road, he said.

“It’s been a challenge all the way through,” Mr. Paulson said of the piece’s construction. “I have to cut the ends of the piece square, but it’s not really square. Everything about it is an optical illusion. I’m cutting the notch for it now and it looks like it should be a V-cut, but it’s a twisted V-cut because as it turns the V is twisting.”

Mr. Paulson couldn’t say how long the piece has taken him to complete.

“I’ve lost track of how many hours it’s taken,” he said. “I’ve lost track and lost weight.”

“Balance” made its first public appearance Aug. 4 at the Full Moon Arts Center in East Moriches, in a show that runs Saturday evenings through Aug. 12.

Mr. Paulson, whose own artwork is also on exhibit there, said the previous weekend’s rain made relocating Mr. Oz’s optical illusion from Mattituck to East Moriches impossible for the show’s premiere evening.

“On Saturday I set it up and Oz called me and said, ‘With a heavy heart, I must say we can’t do it today,’ ” Mr. Paulson said of the last-minute delay. “Then when I got off the phone, I looked over at the piece and finally realized what it is. The next time I saw Oz, I told him I’d seen the piece for the first time.

“ ‘How was it supposed to be seen?’ he asked me.

“I said that sideways from the length I could see the Tau, the Yin and the Yang.

He smiled at me and said, ‘So you have seen it.’ ”

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