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Savannah furniture maker and artist will hold a pop-up show at Gallery 2424

When lighting designer and furniture builder Marta McWhorter isn’t organizing and performing shows at the Lucas Theater or working on custom projects in her carpentry shop, she might be firing ceramics at the Savannah College of Art and Design or greeting visitors at the Kobo Gallery in the historic district.

McWhorter’s varied, wood-focused pieces are versatile and meticulous, debuting at a solo weekend pop-up event opening May 2 at Gallery 2424, 2424 Drayton St., Savannah. “If I Could, I Wood” features a compilation of handmade furniture, artifacts and sketches, and concludes May 5 with a final reception from 3 to 6 p.m.

A production electrician and emerging visual artist, McWhorter moved to Atlanta from North Carolina in the early 2000s, where he worked on stage crews lighting concerts and large corporate events. In the city she learned about SCAD, applied to art school and was accepted. She found her way to Savannah in 2004 and continued working in event production to cover college costs.

She walked lights at Johnny Mercer, Trustees and Lucas theaters and met Brandon McWhorter. The couple came together, had two children, and McWhorter inevitably found it necessary to put aside her art school ambitions to raise their new family. But she always kept an eye on the art.

“Shortly after our second child was born in 2007, I started working at the Telfair Museum in the education department,” McWhorter recalls. “That was the beginning of a very important professional relationship that inspired me to stay focused on my own creative ideas and keep making art.”

To keep the family going, and whenever she could, McWhorter worked in lighting, most notably at Lucas, where she contributed to projects including the annual Savannah Music Festival for more than 18 years. And when bills were really tight, she would return to North Carolina for a long weekend to work with her brother, a respected carpenter, to help him with custom cabinetry projects. It was during these working weekends that McWhorter began to make clear connections between her efforts on stage and ambitions in the visual arts.

“Doing production work and lighting, building set pieces that might last three weeks before they end up in the dumpster – that lack of durability really started to drive me crazy,” McWhorter pointed out. “I started to understand that I wanted to pour my heart and soul into something less ephemeral. I wanted to create functional works of art that had durability.”

In 2011, McWhorter joined local art cooperative Kobo Gallery, where she found space and encouragement to explore how and what she wanted to say in her work. Around this time she also founded her own live events company, McWhorter Productions, and in 2015 rented her own shop to start making what she saw in her head.

But the real game changer happened a few years later when her husband got a job at SCAD. One of the advantages of a full-time job at the university is that the partner or child can take one lesson per quarter for free.

McWhorter seized the opportunity and focused her efforts on the school’s furniture design program. Since 2019, she has regularly taken one class per quarter and now has about two years before graduating with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree.

“What a great opportunity,” said McWhorter. “My SCAD classes have increased my confidence, not only in making furniture, but also in the way I approach the custom work I do. My husband jokes that this is the only class I take seriously as a 40 hour a week job. But people are starting to notice my work and are contacting me to build different projects. I am so grateful for the opportunities SCAD has brought.”

A few months ago, Top Sail, the rooftop bar at the Cotton Sail Hotel, hired her to build two 40-by-4-foot indoor and outdoor bars. McWhorter combined 188 pieces of different types of wood in creating both laminated tops, a technique that informed many of her larger designs.

For ‘If I Could, I Wood’ McWhorter selected recent furniture work and visual art in combination with sketches and process videos. During the four-day pop-up, McWhorter will be in Gallery 2424 to welcome customers and talk about the pieces. All work is for sale.

“This show is a way for me to present many of these school projects that started as prototypes as completed projects,” McWhorter said. “Because I’m often at the theater, in class, at Kobo, or making custom orders, I’ve had little time to showcase the art I create. These artworks, furniture, sketches and sculptural works are a look back at what I’ve been up to. And if something you see inspires you, but you want something custom, let’s talk. I am ready for new assignments.”

If you go >>

What: ‘If I Could, I Wood’ by furniture maker and artist Marta McWhorter

When: May 2 – May 5, reception closing 3:00 PM – 6:00 PM, May 5

Where: Gallery 2424, 2424 Drayton St., Savannah

Cost: Free

Info: Gallery 2424, 912-373-6828, [email protected]