Kathran Siegel: Carving a Life

I came to wood while searching for a way to build my surfaces into volumes. Learning the machinery and discovering the plasticity of the wood itself resulted in my eventual shift first to carvings, inspired by the tropical plant and animal life I observed in that strange Florida environment of my then life. Later, adding function into the mix, my work became identified with the resurgent Studio Furniture Movement. Function, then a forbidden fruit of the fine arts, appealed to my anti-establishment sensibility.

More than 40 years have passed since my initial search. I was thinking then in traditional painter’s terms, of the surface as a flat or two-dimensional plane. The volumes I had in mind, I saw as comprised of planar surfaces. I had missed the distinction between a “plane surface,” which is flat by definition, and a just plain surface. The latter contains thickness, and with that, both additive and subtractive possibility that I now delight in.

The pieces represented here have been worked much as I would approach a series of drawings. Basswood is neutral in appearance, allowing my own marks to dominate its surface. Each panel has been approached using an x-acto knife and a u-gauge. They were carved in relative silence so that I could hear music playing in the background. I needed no heavy machinery, as the wood was even-grained and soft enough to cut into by hand without so much as a mallet. Each variation started from a sketch in the form of a maquette, but once begun took on a life of its own. I was able to respond by hand to what was going on in the piece with no intermediary, like a grinder or some other noisy piece of equipment. In all but one, I chose to omit color, accentuating areas with graphite instead.

My inspiration came from walks along the Wissahickon Creek in Philadelphia. Each variation repeats the same vocabulary of vines and leaves, pods, opened areas and raised surfaces, yet each expresses a different attitude. Titles came only after a piece was completed, in response to what I saw there. No doubt these will continue as an open series. The seasons change and new elements appear.


All at Once 26x30x5 wood, graphite
All At Once
27″ x 32″ x 5″


Bouyant 15x20x5 wood,paint
16″ x 19″ x 4″


Busting Out_detail

Busting Out
22″ x 21″ x 5″


FeelingGood 18x29x5in
Feeling Good
31″ x 18″ x 5″


Odalisque 18x28x3in wood, graphite
18″H x 19″W x 17″D


Omnivorous 23x19x17in wood, graphite
24″ x 19″ x 17″


72″ x 16″ x 6″


Series- Nature Walks 38x96x15in, area
Nature Walks
38” x 96 “x 15”, area


Born in 1944 and raised in Forest Hills, Queens, Kathran Siegel attended Bennington College, where she studied painting with Paul Feeley. She worked toward an MFA at the University of New Mexico, helped develop the visual arts program at UCSD in La Jolla, lived and painted in a Manhattan loft, and taught at the University of Florida in Gainesville. While working on an M. Ed, she took a woodworking class, which led her into 25 years of making furniture and other carved and turned objects. Until her recent retirement, she taught art in Florida and in and around Philadelphia, where she currently lives with her daughter, also an artist. Her work is in several regional museum and public art collections. Siegel was awarded an NEA Art Ventures Grant and later an Andy Warhol Foundation Grant. She has published articles on the arts and art education.


  1. Love these pieces, especially ‘Returning’ as it seems to reflect something in my new novel just about to appear, The Porcupine’s Dilemma. But I’m in England and you are in the States, so I shall content myself with the picture.

  2. love the titles of these intriguing pieces! Something light-hearted in this work — agree that the text is fascinating and will peruse your website — wish I had a big blank wall on which to display one of these! but how would you choose????

    keep on keeping on!

  3. I was very glad to see Kathran Siegel featured in this magazine. It was wonderful to learn so much about her approach to the pieces. I have seen her work in wood over the years, and each new phase in subject matter, form, and function has been phenomenal. I recommend that people who are new to her art take a look at her website.

  4. The entire profile of your work, how it has come to be is over the top. Absolutely exquisite.
    You are growing so fast within the last couple years. I hope the audience you wish to reach will want to own your work.

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