Ernst Gamperl at Houghton Hall


Four years ago the sculptor and master wood turner, Ernst Gamperl, took delivery of a gift from the Marquess and Marchioness of Cholmondeley. It was an oak tree, recently felled, thought to be one of the trees already present when the Houghton Hall Estate was first established three hundred years ago, in 1722 by Sir Robert Walpole.

It was a generous gift. For a master of his craft sourcing wood from a sustainable source can be a nuanced process. Gamperl uses timber that has been felled for reasons that coincide with his need for raw material. The wood he works with tends to come from trees at the end of their life, fallen as a result of wind damage or that have to be taken down for reasons of conservation. He prefers to work with wood that has a Northern European heritage, beech, yew, olive, ash, or as in this case, oak to make hand-turned freestanding vessels.

Gamperl’s work has attracted quite a following and is exhibited internationally. The commissioned vessels, the outcome of Ernst Gamperl’s labours, were always intended to be seen this year, as the Houghton Hall Estate celebrated its three hundredth anniversary. It is appropriate that what he has made, twenty highly individual hand-turned vessels made from the trunk and branches of the oak tree are displayed on the floor of the Stone Hall, the centerpiece of this historic house.

It is hard to believe that these beautiful objects are made of wood, they look fluid. The wood through Gamperl’s turning process has revealed a grain that looks more like that of a woven basket, a textured papier-mâché or macramé. He works with unseasoned wood, it is still quite green as a material, and moving quite a bit as it dries during the course of his production process. The drying process opens up fissures and reveals knots and burrs, which he responds to, either re-joining with delicately made keys or leaving cracks open to add to the level of incident on the surface.

The oak tree would have been a sappling or a young tree when the foundation stones were positioned. Collectively, these vessels are an apposite celebration of the intervening three hundred year period, between the young tree growing into a mature oak, its life as a microcosm for insects and birds and fungi, its gradual demise, and transformation into Gamperl’s hand-fashioned sculpture.

Ernst Gamperl’s work is on display at Houghton Hall, Norfolk until Sunday 25th September 2022. Check the Houghton Hall website for tickets and opening times. The work is installed in the house, this incurs an additional charge on top of access to the estate.

Gamperl’s work features in international museum collections. These include The V&A Museum, Fonds National d’Art Contemporain, and The Issey Miyake Foundation.

The installation was curated by Anthony Slayter-Ralph.

The exhibition has been organised at Houghton Hall in collaboration with Anthony Slayter-Ralph fine art, Hudson NY.

Text by Paul Barratt RCA / Contemporary and Country © 2022