This summer we are excited to host WEM’s 30th Annual Juried Woodworking Exhibition, Rhythms. This exhibition takes as its inspiration the expansive way that Wharton Esherick integrated the idea of rhythms into every part of his life and work. While the artists featured in this exhibition each think differently about this concept, each skillfully uses Esherick’s chosen medium of wood to invite us into the patterns shaping their own lives and thoughts. We had the chance to ask our prizewinning artists a few questions to learn a bit more about their work, practice, and lives. Today, we’re thrilled to share the chat we had with Raul De Lara, the second place prizewinner in the Rhythms exhibition.

Photograph by Agaton Strom


Can you give us an overview of your pieces The Wait (Again) and Tornado and what you were thinking as you made each of them?

The Wait is a small cactus rocking chair covered in spikes. The chair also has a “tattoo” of a heart on its backside. I made this sculpture in response to a very difficult series of events during my father’s last months alive. This piece is my reflection on hard times, and how sometimes all you can do is patiently wait for things to change or get better. 

Tornado, on the other hand, is a celebration of life. This sculpture was made to commemorate my friend’s horse, Tornado, and I used part of his mane for the little tail on my sculpture. This sculpture was made to feel like a little pet, and once I finished making it, we hiked a mountain together. 


Raul De Lara, The Wait (Again), 2022. Walnut, cedar, hemu, lacquer, color pencil, urethane, pigment.
Raul De Lara, Tornado, 2020. Cedar, walnut, pine, leather, 17-year-old Tennessee Walking Horse hair, lacquer, acrylic, steel.


Tell us a bit more about your background. What brought you to creating art in general, and to working with wood in particular? 

I come from a family that believes in luck, ghosts and bingo. From a young age, they taught me that materials, objects and spaces hold energy, and how this energy can be utilized to create beautiful things if one is patient enough. Growing up in my parent’s wood shop in Mexico introduced me to the world of woodworking: a world where each tool has its own language, each piece of wood shows the passing of time on its skin, and where one is able to communicate through their hands. 

Now in my practice, I research how cultures have imbued wood with meaning throughout history. I am particularly interested in preserving, honoring and propelling forward traditional Mexican and American woodworking techniques while simultaneously combining them with new developments in the global industry of woodworking. I have dedicated my life to the mastery of woodworking through research and execution of these techniques, and hope this applied knowledge can expand the field of sculpture as we know it.

Three types of chairs by Raul De Lara. All hand-carved and fully functional. California Mesquite, Siberian Elm, Walnut.


When did you first learn about Wharton Esherick? What about his work did you find interesting or inspiring? If you’ve been to the Studio, do you have a favorite room or piece?

I had seen images of his work online over the years, but it wasn’t until my first visit in person at the museum that it really blew my mind!

I love the way he has built an entire ecosystem, his home and studio, where he seems to have followed his hearts’ desire every day. The way he combines impeccable attention to detail, humor, and functionality is what I think brings out his genius in every corner of the space. His way of integrating curved surfaces into everything is also remarkable. One traditionally thinks about woodworking in terms of flat surfaces, angles and line, but he totally created his own style by integrating curves, rhythm and asymmetry all over.


Your work has such character and life. How do you decide on the subject(s) of your sculptures, many of which deal with big human emotions like loss and memory? What does your process look like in creating your pieces?

A bunch of my sculptures are formally based on plants or furniture. I see them as silent roommates who get to witness our private lives. Both plants and furniture long for someone to take care of them, keep them alive or activate them. I think there is something that happens when the viewer sees these familiar forms, triggering an immediate connection with them. As a sculptor, I try to find forms to describe life moments. Sometimes I am too cryptic, other times, I end up using my own teeth in my sculptures. 

Raul De Lara, Familia, 2024. Walnut, Polyx-Wax, Polyurethane.


Esherick did a lot creating his own hardware from wood. He made door latches in his Studio, pulls carved into furniture, and toggles to open cabinet doors. Your work often includes parts of tools or components like chains, nuts and bolts, etc made from wood. Can you tell us a little bit about the relationship between the natural subjects (often plants) and these more industrial elements?

I think it’s important, as an artist, to look at how mother nature solves problems. She always finds a way. In my work, I do not replicate nature, but rather, I aim to be inspired by it when coming up with compositions. I pay attention to the way plants grow, the type of lines they create in space, and the way they tend to take the shape of spaces they inhabit. Making my own functional hardware allows me to be more playful with my works, create larger works by thinking modularly, and it also allows me to improvise as the sculpture “grows”.

Raul De Lara, Familia, 2024. Walnut, Polyx-Wax, Polyurethane.


We are excited to continue to follow along with you and your wonderful work. What are you most excited about in your practice right now and/or on the horizon? 

Thank you! I recently finished a solo show, Pending Flowers, for Reynolds Gallery in Richmond, VA (On view May 3rd – June 28th, 2024). This show marks my 20th anniversary in the United States, and I took the opportunity to create a new body of work based on all my learned skills over the last two decades.

I am now starting to work on my upcoming solo exhibition for the SCAD Museum in Savannah, GA opening February 2025. I am working pretty large for this show!

This year I have also been working out of my second studio at the World Trade Center in Manhattan. The studio was given to me for a year free of charge thanks to a magical residency I am part of called Silver Art Projects. 20 artists are selected each year, and we all get our own space for an entire year. I am showcasing about 15 works in there, hosting studio visits, critiques, and using a virtual reality headset to sculpt in three-dimensional, mixed-reality space. Using this headset, I can fully see reality, and I can directly sculpt in it. This is a major growth in my practice as I always have been very low-tech, all hand tools kind of guy. Feels exciting to integrate 3D sculpting with woodworking.


» Visit Rhythms: WEM’s 30th Annual Juried Woodworking Exhibition online

» Join Raul De Lara and Talia Drury as they co-lead a demonstration in woodworking and milk paint at Wharton Esherick’s Birthday Bash on July 13th

» Learn and see more of Raul De Lara’s work on his website


Post written by Larissa Huff, Communications and Social Media Manager

June 2024