MUSEUM REVIEW MIT Alum Loans Art Collection to MFA

Wornick ’60 Encourages Exploration

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“She Devil,” by Michael Lucero, is one of the title pieces in “Shy Boy, She Devil, and Isis: The Art of Conceptual Craft, Selections from the Wornick Collection.” The collection is on display at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston until Jan. 6, 2008.
Lee Fatherree—Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Shy Boy, She Devil, and Isis: The Art of Conceptual Craft, Selections from the Wornick Collection

Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Sept. 11, 2007 – Jan. 6, 2008

Ronald C. Wornick SM ’60 describes the artwork he has collected as “good friends you welcome into your living conditions.” Good friend probably isn’t the first thought that comes to mind when viewers behold “She Devil,” a ceramic figure of a large-headed, winged, horned, and tailed creature. But take a closer look. The artistry behind this “She Devil” is unlike any I’ve seen before. Yarn is curled around the upper-half of the ceramic being while the lower half is streaked with paint. It’s a crazy invention, created by Michael Lucero, and I think I need to spend some time staring at it before I decide what to think about it.

That’s how Ron discovers the artwork that he loves. He says that his wife, Anita, knows a great piece of art the moment she sees it. He, on the other hand, has to walk around a piece a few times and “explore it.”

It looks like he’s done a bit of exploring, since the Wornicks have built an extensive collection admired by many. Now, over one hundred pieces are on display at the Museum of Fine Arts for others to explore. “Shy Boy, She Devil, and Isis: The Art of Conceptual Craft, Selections from the Wornick Collection runs through Jan. 6, 2008.

Ron explains that the work of craftsmen has traditionally been found at craft shows as “decorative arts.” Recently, however, craftwork has started to have deeper meaning beyond decoration. “In the last 20 years … Mrs. Wornick and I believe something more profound has happened. … It now became a question of what you had to say as an artist …”

Each piece tells a story, Ron says. It seems that the allure of the artwork is in trying to unravel or guess at that story. There is “Sea Drift,” which is a sculpture of a woman’s upper half. Her expression is anxious and her torso contains a hollow cavity filled with waves and an empty boat. There are dotted constellations scattered over the rest of her torso. This reveals our hidden anxiety, rollicking emotions, and loneliness as we look for our way in life.

A story isn’t the only thing that makes works in this collection worthwhile. “Chase Table,” by Judy Kensley McKie, is a gorgeous piece of furniture in itself, reminding viewers of conceptual craft’s roots in decoration. The glass top sits atop two bronze goat-like figures, each holding the other’s tail in its mouth. There’s something fun, childlike, and approachable about the table — it probably wouldn’t be out of place in your own house.

Ron, who is originally from Malden, Mass., earned a masters in nutrition and food science from MIT. According to the MFA’s biography of the Wornicks, Ron worked for the United Fruit Company after graduating from MIT. He later turned a division of the company into “the largest supplier of military rations in the world.”

Ron describes himself as “a third-rate artist,” but it seems he has a first-rate eye for the stuff. His interest in the fine arts started during childhood, when “music was my life.” He took art classes as an undergraduate, though he jokes that the art teachers tried to discourage him because they thought he was talentless. Even though his career “turned out to be far away from creative art,” he says that art became part of his life with Anita.

Living in Boston stimulated Ron’s interest in the fine arts, since he was surrounded by museums, theaters, and the symphony orchestra. Though he says MIT did not directly affect his love for art, “I’d be back in Boston delivering newspapers … if it were not for MIT.”

Wornick offered this tidbit of advice for students who want to understand art: “If you want to know about art, you go to where the art is. … It’s all about looking.”

This exhibit succeeds in expanding my taste in artwork because I’m still looking at “She Devil” and I think I’ve made up my mind. I can’t really divine its meaning, but its impish look is endearing. I like it.