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Tools as Art: The Hechinger Collection

 

A world with no Black & Decker, Craftsman, or Snap-on Tools? Without Tim "The Tool Man" Taylor or Hardware Hank? No "This Old House" or "Home Time"?

Life as we know it wouldn't be the same without tools. Indeed, the invention and use of tools is what separates humans from other creatures that roam the earth, and our lifestyle is a direct reflection of all that we have built with tools. Since tools are such an integral part of what and who we are, it's logical that artists would reflect the use of tools in their artwork. (right: Lee A. Schuette, Rake back Chair #2, 1981, oak, synthetic grass, rake)

For that reason, the Leigh Yawkey Woodson Art Museum is retooling to present Tools as Art: The Hechinger Collection from April 17 - June 20, 2004. The 65 works comprising the exhibition celebrate the amazing variety of 20th century art that represents or incorporates tools and hardware.

In Tools as Art familiar forms -- from hammers, saws, ladders, and wrenches to machine tools such as the lathe -- are transformed into works of imaginative power. The variety of art forms includes assemblages of found objects and building materials, as well as paintings, prints and photographs, and examples of folk art.

In 1978, hardware industry pioneer John Hechinger moved the Hechinger Company -- a chain of hardware stores started by his father in 1911 -- into new corporate headquarters in Landover, Maryland. He found the building efficient yet sterile, stating, "It struck me that the endless repetition of corridors and cubicles was boring and seemed to rebuke the fantasies that a hardware store inspires. For anyone whose passion is working with his or her hands, a good hardware store is a spur to the imagination and a source of irresistible delights."

Hechinger already owned Jim Dine's Tool Box, ten screenprints that combine tools with images from Pop culture. He hung the collection in his office and immediately noticed his associates' enjoyment. Recognizing the direct thematic connection to his business, he set out collecting art that highlighted the company's very livelihood. "It was [my] hope that surrounding employees with artistic expressions of the same objects they handled in the tens of thousands would bring a sense of dignity to their jobs."

Early on, Hechinger discovered that the collection's distinct focus reflects a rich and diverse vein in modern art, primarily from the post World War II era. Artists of note in the Hechinger Collection -- which numbers more than 350 works -- include Richard Estes, Arman, Claes Oldenberg, Mr. Imagination, Red Grooms, Bereniece Abbott, and Wayne Thiebaud.

Spanning a wide range of styles and themes, Tools as Art honors everyday tools, where form and function are inextricably linked. The subject matter may be utilitarian, but the metamorphosis of objects into art appeals to the builder in all of us.

Tools as Art has been organized for national tour by International Arts & Artists, Washington, DC.

 

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