The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

State and Nation

June 2, 2014

Poisoned Auburn oaks become museum piece

— ATLANTA (AP) — Matt Moulthrop was as horrified as anyone when news broke in 2010 that a University of Alabama fan had poisoned Auburn University's landmark oak trees after a football defeat.

But unlike most others around the country whose grips tensed on newspapers, steering wheels and remote controls at reports of the fan pouring herbicide on the roots of the 130-year-old oaks, the noted Atlanta wood-turner could do something about it. Not that Moulthrop could bring back the towering Southern live oaks, which had figured prominently in countless celebrations at Toomer's Corner, gateway to the Auburn campus. But as one of the country's top young craftsmen, he knew he could extract pure beauty from tragedy.

He envisioned creating a large bowl that would stand as a symbol of the oaks' majesty, and perhaps even salve the sense of loss felt by the extended Auburn family.

Moulthrop is a third-generation wood-turner who has taken the classic vessel shapes of his father, Philip, and late grandfather, Ed, and turned them in new directions, with different materials and design approaches. He was recognized for his innovative eye in 2012, when the Smithsonian's Renwick Gallery in Washington included his pieces in its prestigious "40 Under 40: Craft Futures" exhibition.

Still, with his fine craft lineage, Moulthrop, now 36, said he often feels he's working in the long shadows of his father and grandfather. He therefore is attracted to projects with "an element of challenge and second meanings to them."

He contacted Jim Gorrie, a longtime collector of Moulthrop family work who is an Auburn alumnus and university trustee. The Brasfield & Gorrie construction firm president and CEO quickly connected him with university administrators and leaders of the school's Jule Collins Smith Museum of Fine Art.

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