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With wooden sculptures, Alison Croney Moses shares her motherhood narrative


Alison Croney Moses uses a wood planer to prepare some walnut she will process into veneer for one of her next pieces. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
Alison Croney Moses uses a wood planer to prepare some walnut she will process into veneer for one of her next pieces. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

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When hanging in a gallery, Alison Croney Moses' work forms a galaxy. She suspends her intricate wooden sculptures on barely visible string. Some of the pieces are shaped like shells or seed pods. They almost take on a Fibonacci spiral, though mathematicians might disagree.

It takes a careful hand to bend wood.

“Sometimes the fibers will buckle. Sometimes it'll flatten out and pull, pull apart a little bit. So you're trying to avoid those things,” Croney Moses, 40, said. “You're trying to have it take as much of the curve as you can without it buckling or ripping.”

As a woodworker and artist, Croney Moses has distinguished her style of curved wood veneer sculptures over the last several years, shaping wood almost as if it were clay. She’s creating contemporary art using a skill she first learned making furniture with her father as a kid. Her first solo show, “The Habits of Reframing,” opened this September at the Abigail Ogilvy Gallery.

Artist and woodworker Alison Croney Moses in her woodshop. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
Artist and woodworker Alison Croney Moses in her woodshop. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

Croney Moses works in the basement of an Allston woodshop, surrounded by power tools and covered in sawdust. The name of her solo exhibition emerged as she found herself experimenting with her craft.

Her work stands out because there are no edges or corners, and her wood sculptures remain perpetually curved. As a student at Rhode Island School of Design, Croney Moses quickly realized she couldn’t be boxed in, nor could the furniture she made.

“In furniture, people want you to make rectangular functional objects and I don't do that,” she said. Her tables resembled trees with big oval tops. When a professor asked her to build a box, it looked more like a cradle or basket.

“I used to see fault in my making when there were imperfections,” Croney Moses said. “Now, I'm starting to embrace that ... there is no perfect, and part of the human hand is the imperfections.”

The process of creating her work is meditative, tedious and loud. Croney Moses finds inspiration in shapes of the natural world.

“Nature is not arbitrary. There's our scientific description of how things come together, or the shapes that are made, but they're often very angular,” Croney Moses said. “It's not simple. It's complicated. But there's a beauty in that complexity that creates a simple form.”

Alison Croney Moses applies wood glue to the edge of one veneer shell to attach it to another. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
Alison Croney Moses applies wood glue to the edge of one veneer shell to attach it to another. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

Curator Michelle Millar Fisher, who works at the Museum of Fine Arts, says there are few artists or craftspeople creating work like Croney Moses.

“She has this technical ability in a way with wood that is phenomenal. And yet she has a language with it that's completely her own. She is not bound by traditions even as she knows them,” Millar Fisher said. “She is so thoughtful about bringing in her personal experience as a woman, as a mother, as a Black woman in this world.”

Croney Moses' art tells her story of motherhood. She looked at her pregnant belly, and recreated it in wood, ready to bear fruit. She found catharsis in a community of Black mothers and artists.

This past spring, she curated the "Un-ADULT-erated Black Joy" exhibit at the Piano Craft Gallery in Boston. The exhibition included poetry, paintings, fabric arts and wood sculpture. The gallery became a place that held events for Black women to craft together, and reflect on the last few years.

“We did joyous gatherings for Black moms,” Croney Moses said, describing the events as a space to connect to their youthful selves, to laugh and play. “I also did a lot of investigation for this exhibit around physical transformation that's needed to access or re-access joy in my body.”

Works by Alison Croney Moses hang in the Abigail Ogilvy Gallery in the South End. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
Works by Alison Croney Moses hang in the Abigail Ogilvy Gallery in the South End. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

She convened other Black mothers and artists following the murder of George Floyd to process their emotions. They would eventually produce the exhibition together, which featured work by Ekua Holmes, L'Merchie Frazier, Tanya Nixon-Silberg and Zahirah Nur Truth.

Croney Moses has two children, and not long ago, her daughter asked about the surgery scars on her body. These scars reminded the artist of a time when she almost lost her life to postpartum preeclampsia, a fact she’s only started to confront. She remembered feeling fine, but her blood pressure wouldn’t stop rising.

“I'm the success story. I didn't die," she said. "I didn't have any long-term damage, and I didn't have a stroke. But the nurses said that if I hadn't come in when I did, I would have.”

The experience led to another work, called "Keloids." Wood with multicolored rope sewn through holes. Wood again as skin, thread as a spine, forming fabric keloid tissue.

Works by Alison Croney Moses hang in the Abigail Ogilvy Gallery in the South End. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
Works by Alison Croney Moses hang in the Abigail Ogilvy Gallery in the South End. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

In her “Unsewn" series, Croney Moses used a simple square of walnut wood and peeled away a thin layer to reveal a fleshy hue. She looked at pictures from her own surgery to create this. Without that necessary surgery, she would not have been able to pick up her children.

Croney Moses’s art practice is informed by motherhood. There are no endings here; rather an ability to bend, to learn, to be vulnerable; a unique vessel, which holds space for it all.

This segment aired on October 20, 2023.

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