University City

Artist gets inspiration from homes’ wood frames

During the residential construction boom a few years ago, Ted Lott saw masterpieces everywhere he traveled across the country.

It wasn’t the finished homes, gussied in brick and accessorized with shutters, that he admired. It was the stick-structure skeletons underneath, visible only for a short time during a home’s lifespan.

Where others might see an unfinished shell on a suburban cul-de-sac, Lott, an artist and craftsman who specializes in woodworking, sees artistry in the raw-bones appearance of stick-built homes.

“Two-by-four framing is standard lumber and nails … but I think it’s beautiful, especially when it’s exposed,” said Lott. “When it’s not clad in all the boarding and siding and plaster.”

Lott’s work, a collection of miniature residential structures, will be showcased until Jan. 15 at The Storrs Gallery inside the Thomas I. Storrs Building on UNC Charlotte’s main campus on N.C. 49.

The exhibit, “False Front,” will feature 15 pieces that represent the artist’s admiration for stick-built structures. Admission is free.

The Storrs Gallery highlights architecture-themed works created by professional and student artists. Lott’s sculptures examine residential architecture as sculpture. Some pieces are as tall as 12 feet, while others are just a foot high.

Many of the works feature a false front, or flat façade. “Most people are familiar with it from the (false-front sets in) old westerns,” he said.

Lott’s sculptures have traveled all over the United States, sitting on acreage in one art gallery after another.

The artist behind the works is just as transient. Part of his living comes from residencies at art schools across the country. He usually lives in three cities, on average, throughout the course of a year.

The opportunity has given him the chance to study residential architecture from coast to coast.

“You always notice the differences, but you also notice the commonalities, and frame architecture is certainly a commonality throughout the U.S.,” he said. “You’ll see the same house in Portland, Maine, and in Portland, Ore.”

Much as an anthropologist would when studying ancient bones, Lott said, he can learn a lot about the history of a house by the markings on the boards that are its bones.

Older homes were constructed from lumber cut by bandsaws, but today large circular saws do the heavy work. Lott prefers the earlier method.

“It has a nice texture to it that it leaves behind,” he said of the bandsaw’s fingerprint. “It’s a visual and a haptic (tactile) feel. You can touch it, and you can feel the texture.”

His own works share a kinship with those older structures. Lott mills his own wood with a bandsaw.

Each sculpture begins as a loose drawing. From there, it’s a process of exploration with his hands until the piece is finished.

Lott, who teaches courses in woodworking and design across the country, said he worries that generations younger than his are losing that important skill of discovery by hand.

“In the educational world, with computers, you end up doing a lot more screen time and a lot less hands-on time with materials,” he said.

He hopes viewers who visit his work in Charlotte will walk away with a new appreciation for the beauty underneath their homes’ outer façades.

Stick-built homes are a part of our culture, he said: “It’s an American invention.”