Galleries: Fritz Dietel explores shapes of nature in paper sculptures (Edith Newhall, The Philadelphia Inquirer)

chaliceThe Philadelphia Inquirer, posted online Sunday July 10, 2011

Galleries: Fritz Dietel explores shapes of nature in paper sculptures

by Edith Newhall

Fritz Dietel, a Philadelphia sculptor known for his exacting work in wood, is showing his efforts in handmade paper for the first time and inaugurating Schmidt Dean Gallery’s new digs on Chestnut Street.

As he was in his 2007 show of wood sculptures, Dietel is still exploring shapes from nature, but he has narrowed his focus in this particular body of work to forms derived from flower buds, seed pods, sea sponges, and other objects whose inner structures are somewhat revealed through their exteriors. His transition from wood to abaca paper, made from pulped fiber extracted from the trunk of the banana tree Musa textilis, has enabled him to create a translucent, podlike skin over a hidden inner armature. (A 2007 Pew grant enabled Dietel to learn the art of papermaking).

When I think of Dietel’s wood sculptures from four years ago, I think of perfectly finished pieces, not a cut out of place, and in some cases even overly finessed. Not so this time around. Dietel has allowed his paper pieces to suggest the distressing that weather, birds, and insects can exact on seedpods, buds, and berries, allowing the occasional tear or hole to remain exposed. It’s hard for a perfectionist to allow nature in, one would think, and the artist clearly has decided to go with the flow.

A few of Dietel’s more literal interpretations of nature in his last show of all-wood sculptures here veered into humor, referencing on occasion a cuckoo-clock kitsch. In this new paper work, however, he seems engaged in a more profound appreciation of nature and its naturally abstract patterns, and sculptures such as Chalice, a pink-tinged, puffed-up abacá pod emerging from a spiky mahogany base, and Smithsonian, a peach-stone shape encased in an open, netlike paper skin, bring to mind individual elements of Charles Burchfield’s late, revelatory paintings rendered as three-dimensional, larger-than-life objects.

Image: Chalice, abaca and mahogany

Exuberance in Wood (Edith Newhall, The Philadelphia Inquirer)

exuberanceThe Philadelphia Inquirer, posted online Friday January 12, 2007 Exuberance in Wood by Edith Newhall Fritz Dietel has lightened up. His latest wood sculptures, on view through next week at the Schmidt Dean Gallery, have more fluid, attenuated forms than the works that made up his show three years ago at this gallery, and his use of pigmented epoxy has become downright lavish and painterly. The sculptures also are more openly representational and eccentric than his quasi-abstract, less playful untitled works of three and four years back. Champignon, a wacky, good-looking mushroom-shaped sculpture of pine and cedar suspended from the ceiling, is the star of the show, followed by Palm, a windblown palm of cedar and pine, and Flicker, the bird of the same name assembled from pieces of apple wood. Dietel should continue exploiting his sense of humor. He seems to have a knack for transforming the ordinary into the exuberantly exotic. Image: Fritz Dietel’s wood sculpture Flicker is at Schmidt Dean through January 20, 2007.

How does an insect construct a cocoon? (Andrew Mangravite, Broad Street Review)

Broad Street Review, December 9, 2006

How does an insect construct a cocoon? Ask Fritz Dietel

by Andrew Mangravite

Fritz Dietel’s work reminds me of the photographs of Karl Blossfeldt. Both possess an exceptional knack for looking at plant life and perceiving its inherent structural design. In Blossfeldt’s two-dimensional work, the payoff takes the form of delicate arabesques. Dietel, on the other hand, works in three dimensions and at a considerably larger scale.

After Dietel imagines the delicate arabesque of a piece like Tufts, he then has to build it. This he does with wood chips, epoxy glue and (one assumes) infinite reserves of patience.

I’m not at all certain whether Dietel works quickly or slowly. We all love that image of the artist delicately toiling away like some one erecting a house-of-cards. But then you look at the scale of the works (the largest of the works in Dietel’s exhibition is 124″ x 16″ x 18″), and consider the fact that many are hollow, and you begin to suspect that maybe he works very, very quickly, like an insect constructing a cocoon, because the slower the pace, the greater are chances that something can go wrong.

Nature or fantasy?

In the end, Dietel instills in you a new respect for the amount of sheer design inherent in nature — though I’m not certain that everything Dietel does is in fact found in the natural world. He may well be a fantasist who merely uses the natural world as his creative springboard. But whether his Tufts, his Palm and his Shroom exist anywhere outside his mind, there is still the fact that he has created them and placed them on the walls of a gallery.

This is where the other aspect of Dietel’s work comes to the fore. The man is a master craftsman. What he is able to achieve with chips of wood and glue is quite astonishing. The miracle of their existing in the form of wood sculptures echoes the miracle of their existing in nature.

That autumnal feeling

This new show is comprised of nine wood sculptures and two drawings, which appear to be preparatory work for pieces that are not included in this show. The sketches underline Dietel’s interest in design. Clearly he at least draws his initial inspiration from the everyday sights to be encountered in any field. What he does with the raw material extracted from those sights is what makes him an artist rather than a naturalist.

Dietel uses a variety of woods in his work. Maple, cedar, pine, oak and apple woods are all utilized in this exhibition. He often mixes woods of different types to achieve contrasts of color and grain. I suspect issues of malleability and “workability” also come into play. What Dietel finally produces is far from drab, though I must confess that so much bare wood installed in me a pronounced autumnal feeling.

Art at the Kimmel | Worth the Wait (Edward J. Sozanski, The Philadelphia Inquirer)

04xThe Philadelphia Inquirer, Sunday, April 23, 2006 “Percent for Art” Jury Chooses Four Deserving Local Artists and One Impressive Wild Card By Edward J. Sozanski, Inquirer Art Critic

When the Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts opened in December 2001, it was supposed to contain public art purchased under the city’s Percent for Art program. The center did open with art, from other sources, but the process of selecting, buying and installing the public art ended up taking five years instead of the seven months originally scheduled.

No matter. The seven-member jury has finally completed its assignment by selecting three paintings, a sculpture, and a mixed-media work. They have been installed on three levels on both the north and the south sides of the center. The artists, chosen from an initial field of 499 who submitted slides for consideration, are all Philadelphians – painters Sidney Goodman, Elizabeth Osborne and Moe Brooker, sculptor Fritz Dietel, and mixed-media artist Stuart Netsky. According to Marsha Moss, the Kimmel’s public-art consultant and one of the jurors, the jury spent about half of the $260,000 available under the Percent for Art regulations. More money has to be spent to properly light the works, which will be done this summer, she said. After these expenses have been tallied, there might be a second round of purchases, she said. The jury has already recommended six other artists whose work would be eligible. The process was more protracted than expected, but at least it produced a commendable result. It’s not surprising, though, that four of the five artists are well-known in the city’s art community, with extensive exhibition records and connections to the local art establishment. Brooker, Goodman, Osborne and Netsky are seasoned artists whose names would have popped up in any preliminary, off-the-cuff brainstorming about what to buy for the Kimmel. The wild card is Dietel, who, despite an impressive body of work, has yet to achieve quite the visibility enjoyed by the others. Yet his lyrical wall-mounted wooden sculpture, Twist, proves that he clearly deserved to be chosen. To be fair, the jurors had to cast their net as widely as possible – if they hadn’t, they might not have found Dietel. They first narrowed the 499 entries down to 23 semi-finalists, whose studios they visited. They chose wisely, if predictably. The art is generally of high caliber and appropriate to its location and its audience. Only Netsky’s work, a postmodern riff on Claude Monet’s famous “haystack” paintings, could be considered in any way iconoclastic. The piece reinterprets the shimmering effect of impressionism with large colored sequins called “billboard flickers,” which jiggle when disturbed even slightly by air currents or vibrations. Three works – Dietel’s horn-shaped sculpture, Goodman’s full-length figure of an angel who might be singing, and Brooker’s animated abstraction, which suggests the improvisational ebullience of jazz — strongly evoke music. Osborne’s boldly brushed, semiabstracted landscape and Netsky’s flicker piece aren’t overtly musical, but their vibrant color harmonies might suggest the brightness and clarity of a brass ensemble. Moss said that the delays the jury encountered actually proved beneficial: “The judgment of the jurors sharpened as a result; they were able to see the finished site, its spirit, its materials, and its changing audience.” The other jurors, who remained anonymous during the selection process, were artist Louis Sloan; Joseph J. Rishel, curator at the Philadelphia Museum of Art; gallerist Helen Drutt English; collector Marciarose Shestack; Janice Price, president and chief executive officer of the Kimmel Center; and Nancy Rogers, a former Kimmel vice president. They worked under the oversight of the city’s then deputy city representative for arts and culture, Carol Clark Lawrence. The city contributed about $30 million to the Kimmel’s construction, which, under the one-percent provision of the public-art ordinance, made $300,000 available for art. Of that, $40,000 was set aside for administration and contingencies. All the artists were paid directly, with individual prices reportedly ranging from $10,000 to about $45,000. Three works are installed on the south side of the Kimmel, each on a different level, and two on the north side. The placements confirm that the building isn’t especially receptive to art, especially to paintings, because it lacks adequate and logical hanging space. Dietel’s sculpture looks comfortable on its staircase wall, but its location on the second tier north is on the fringe of public awareness. Goodman’s gloriously theatrical Angel, on the south side of the ground-level plaza, probably will enjoy the most foot traffic, and of the four paintings it’s in the best position to be seen to advantage. Energetic art. Carlos Basualdo is making his debut as the new curator of contemporary art at the Philadelphia Museum of Art with a series of permanent-collection exhibitions called “Notations.” Exposing the collection this way is a splendid idea — it not only deepens the public’s knowledge of what the museum owns, but it also creates a sense of ferment and allows visitors to perceive relationships among various works that otherwise would remain obscure. For his inaugural presentation in Gallery 176, Basualdo has selected art that purportedly expresses or generates energy. An installation by Argentine artist Victor Grippo, a primitive and fanciful “battery” made from a table covered with a mound of potatoes wired in series, actually generates a weak current that registers on a voltmeter. For a charmed moment, I was transported back to my eighth-grade science fair. The show, called “Energy Yes!”, is dotted with big names such as Joseph Beuys, Andy Warhol, Bruce Nauman, Ana Mendieta and John Cage, whose 1968 book supplied the series title. Sculptor Phoebe Adams is the only Philadelphia artist represented. Some works connect literally — Warhol’s “camouflage” self-portrait with Thomas Hirshhorn’s wall installation that uses camouflage patterns to evoke the violence of war, or Warhol’s portrait of Beuys with works by the German artist nearby, such as his famous felt suit. (Felt kept him warm and alive after a wartime plane crash.) Some evocations of energy are visual, such as a drawing by Martin Ramirez dominated by U-shaped “force lines” and a similar image by the Cuban José Bedia called Spell of the Moon. Like the potato battery, Nauman’s spiral neon apothegm, The True Artist Helps the World by Revealing Mystic Truths, comes alive electrically. Despite Nauman and Grippo, the energy in this gallery is more conceptual, and perhaps even imagined, than actual. The show’s most thought-provoking aspect turns out to be its title, “Energy Yes!”, which abbreviates a motto coined by Hirshhorn. His full motto is “Energy Yes, Quality No!” At least in his case, it sounds more than apt.

Art | Art at the Kimmel Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts, Broad and Spruce Streets. Public art on the plaza, first tier and second tier is accessible on days and evenings of performances, and during daily 1 p.m. building tours. The center plans to begin Saturday-morning art and architecture tours this summer.

Inspired by Nature (Katherine Rushworth, The Post-Standard/Stars)

The Post-Standard/Stars, Syracuse, NY, January 23, 2005

Inspired by Nature “Lamentations’ Exhibit at the Redhouse Explores Works of Three Artists”

Katherine Rushworth, Contributing Writer

…You won’t have trouble connecting with Dietel‘s exquisitely crafted elemental shapes. The work is fluid and graceful, created by joining organic forms with meticulously constructed linear elements.

He says he uses many of the same techniques used in bridge and boat building to create his work, steaming and bending thin strips of wood over wooden forms. He then lavishly coats the thin strips of oak, maple, and/or cedar with pigmented epoxy, which oozes out between the seams or shards of wood.

This work is craft-oriented, combining an interest in natural material with craft a la the American sculptor Martin Puryear (b. 1941), but it is also a pure celebration of form.

One of the most dramatic works in the show is a large piece made of oak and maple, titled “Twister, 2004.” It hangs from pipes suspended between the theater catwalks and the gallery, like an exotic flower bathed in a lime green patina of pigmented epoxy. It reads like a drawing in space. …

Katherine Rushworth, of Cazenovia, is a former director of the Michael C. Rockefeller Arts Center (State University College at Fredonia) and the Central New York Institute for the Arts in Education.

Copyright, 2005, The Herald Company

Fritz Dietel (Tom Csaszar, Sculpture)

12xSculpture, September 2004 Vol. 23 No. 7 Philadelphia Fritz Dietel Schmidt Dean Gallery Fritz Dietel, untitled, 2003 Oak, cedar, epoxy, and mixed media 62 x 28 x 18 inches Fritz Dietel’s sculptures of the last year work best as forms (or ideals) that are not fully realized, not perfectly brought into actual existence. Like bird’s nests, hives, or clam shells—forms from nature that broadly resemble Dietel’s ovoid vessels—these sculptures are hollowed volumes formed by an accretion of material bits according to a form that is clearly visible, yet not perfectly achieved in any one individual instance. In a sense one could consider them as being made before our eyes, and not yet finished. Materials, process, and perhaps external disruptive events yield entities and implied narratives that are splintered, interrupted, eccentric, or abandoned. The swelling shapes of Green Hive and Orange Hiveare made of small sticks of wood carefully assembled into volumes three or four feet tall, through which oozes the brightly colored epoxy that binds everything together. The color of the exposed epoxy makes the flow and implied movement of the assembled patterns dramatically clear. It’s as if we are looking at both a diagram and a freezeframe photograph of the making of the sculptures. At the same time, the epoxy forms a brightly colored interior that is revealed as the curving shapes unravel at the top and bottom. Since the works are hollow and hung on the wall, gravity and mass become secondary to process and material: the issue is not how they are held up, or how they stand in the world, but how they came to be—how they were generated. Papoose and Bivouac are networks of short pieces of wood joined at their ends. They allow one to see the inside and the outside of the sculptures at once. The title of the latter refers to improvised military shelters, which leave their inhabitants exposed to enemy fire. Dietel’s works from the ’90s, not shown here, such as Equatorial Reflections, are also concerned with disclosing their interiors. However, these earlier pieces often played with references to scale and vague technological uses, as if they were huge models from a pattern book of decorative furniture, diagrams from a geometry text, or models for pre-industrial scientific devices. Throughout his career during the last 15 years, Dietel has focused on a tightly defined territory in which object, material, and sculptural form are defined by allusions to use and purpose, and these definitions are made to carry the resonance of our interest as observers. His sculptures, from this point of view, are objects obsessed with their own making. A weakness or limitation of working in this way—which is shared by a range of contemporary work—is that all the references and the weight of associations, all the pleasures and meanings revealed by the work, have to be translated into what one might call the metaphysics and narrative of making. Here, facture is the one voice that makes pleasure and meaning possible. While some artists use organic forms as metaphors for mystery, Dietel modifies them through repetition, pattern, and implied purpose, rendering the organic as a metaphor for use or life. Viewing Dietel’s sculpture is not like regarding the ruins of a lost civilization through a Romantic conceit for the poetry of temporality and impermanence; instead these pieces evoke the interest of an anthropologist in what shapes and textures reveal to a careful observer about the activities and intelligences that generated them. The emotions of the viewer do not so much engage the poignancy of existence and the ephemeralness of life as they do the acts of making and the processes that initiate, promote, and interrupt the production of things. Such work derives strength from the fact that its intentions, stripped of shadowy resonances or dissonances, declare themselves with one voice and are fully exposed. -Tom Csaszar

Chips Ahoy (Roberta Fallon, Philadelphia Weekly)

Philadelphia Weekly, November 19, 2003

Chips Ahoy

by Roberta Fallon

Fritz Dietel ‘s sculpture is elegant and naturalistic. Made of hundreds of wood chips glued together around bulbous, podlike understructures that are later removed, the hollow, woven-looking (or in the case of his new pieces, hairy-looking) sculptures evoke nature’s bounty. There’s always been the hint of violence — split pod casings and the like. But with this new work, the painful, dangerous side of nature comes out of the closet.

In pieces that wear their infrastructure (drips of colored epoxy glue) like a badge of honor, the artist has made works more animal than botanical, and more wounded than whole. With outer skins that look like animal pelts or hairy human arms and legs — here covered with coagulated, bloodlike goo — the sculptures convey a life force that’s not so benevolent after all.

A companion show of oil paintings by Csilla Sadloch nails the lyrical side of nature in sumptuous compositions that argue that the forest floor’s an exquisite jungle.

“Fritz Dietel and Csilla Sadloch,” through November 22, 2003
Schmidt-Dean Gallery, 1710 Sansom Street (215) 569-9433.

from the Philadelphia Weekly November 19, 2003

Wood, Glue and Eloquence (Edward Sozanski, The Philadelphia Inquirer)

Philadelphia Inquirer, November 11, 2003

Wood, glue and eloquence

By Edward J. Sozanski, Inquirer Art Critic

As his forms continue to evolve, Fritz Dietel’s sculpture holds its position among the most beautiful and elegant three-dimensional work being made in this region.

Dietel’s exhibition of new work at the Schmidt/Dean Gallery expresses this evolutionary process clearly. The largest sculpture, Twist, which is also the oldest, features a coiling “tail” that wraps around a horn-shaped body.

In several subsequent sculptures, this “tail” shrinks to a vestige, until ultimately, in many of the dozen pieces, it disappears altogether.

The sculptures, all constructed of small shards, blocks or strips of wood stuck together with colored epoxy, follow a basic plan – a hollow, pod-shaped body usually open at both ends. All but one hanging piece are fixed to walls.

The epoxy is the key ingredient. Dietel applies it liberally, so it oozes between the pieces of wood. Variously colored red, green, blue, yellow and deep purple, it also coats the cavity walls, adding texture as well as contrast to the wood bodies.

Essentially, these are elemental structures, although obviously challenging to construct. Yet their eloquent allusions to nature and their artful synthesis of materials give them uncommon panache.

Natural Talent (Lorraine Gennaro, South Philly Review)

02keyhole_sideSouth Philly Review, October, 3, 2002 Natural talent: Sculptor Fritz Dietel, who creates organic forms out of different types of wood, chose urban life over his farming roots. By Lorraine Gennaro, Review Staff Writer Sitting inside his spacious home studio on the 1200 block of South Second Street, Fritz Dietel reaches over and raps twice on a wooden desk. “Knock on wood, I’ve always had positive response to my work. I would have to say it’s a combination of talent and that it’s appreciated,” says the 42-year-old artist. It’s an appropriate gesture for an artist whose main medium actually is wood. Other natural materials also have proved lucky for Dietel, though. In August, his first commissioned work, a welded bronze piece, was installed at the Milton Hershey School in Hershey, Pa. Named Keyhole, the sculpture is located at the entrance to the Town Center. The imposing artwork is 12 feet high, 14 feet wide and 9 feet deep with a 6-foot opening. Commissioned in December 2001, Keyhole is a simple and totemic piece allowing for a broad range of interpretation — much like Dietel’s other sculptures, the artist says. Keyhole was a departure for Dietel, who usually works in oak, cedar, maple and other types of wood. “It’s a warm material. It takes color well,” he says, explaining his preference for the unconventional medium. “It’s a natural material and works well with my forms, which are organic.” And it doesn’t hurt that wood is easy to work with, adds the artist. A few weeks ago, an exhibition of Dietel’s work closed its summer run at the Philadelphia International Airport. Not bad for a farm boy from Connecticut. One of five children of German, Scottish and Italian descent, Dietel grew up on a 43-acre farm in Richfield, Conn. But Dietel’s father was no farmer. Instead, the artist describes his dad as a “white-collar” worker who commuted to Manhattan every day. So it was Fritz who assumed the role of farmer by taking care of the animals and maintaining the farm machinery. Once he learned to operate some of the tools of the trade, Dietel started to build items for the homestead, laying the groundwork for his future career as a wood sculptor. Growing up, Dietel says he enjoyed woodcarving and the 4H Club. Originally, the aspiring farmer had designs on attending agriculture school, where he would have majored in forestry. But the high school Dietel attended set him on a different life course. Wooster High in Danbury was situated next to a community arts center that offered classes in photography, ceramics, nude drawing and other arts. The school encouraged students to take classes at the center. “It was a great exposure to the arts,” notes Dietel. For his senior project, he made three large steel sculptures. Bitten by the art bug, Dietel traded in his hoe for a sketchpad but says he never lost his love for the outdoors. But he does admit with a laugh, “By that time, I was kind of tired of milking goats, shoveling s— and baling hay.” Dietel went on to major in sculpture at the Philadelphia College of Art, now the University of the Arts. After graduation, he landed a job with the Balch Institute organizing the museum’s exhibits. Since 1985, Dietel has been a full-time sculptor, working out of his home studio, where he built everything from the furniture to the walls, he notes. Wife Kathy, newborn baby Anna and 3-1/2-year-old daughter Emma are simply a door away from the artist’s sprawling loft. It’s the kind of creative space that would make even the most uppity SoHo artist green with envy. After building a body of work at his loft, Dietel began soliciting local galleries. The artist says he doesn’t settle on any given artistic theme. “My works are an ongoing exploration of form that challenge the material and myself,” he says. Talent and persistence paid off, as the artist eventually was offered solo and group showings at area galleries. The first gallery to showcase his work was the Jessica Berwind Gallery, formerly on Cherry Street in Old City. When that facility closed, the Schmidt Dean Gallery picked up Dietel’s work. Today, the artist is represented exclusively by the gallery at 1636 Walnut St. Dietel’s work has been showcased in galleries and museums throughout the region. His wooden creations hang in many private and public collections, including the lobbies of some Center City law firms. “Part of being an artist is sticking with it. It takes a long time before [work] is picked up and recognized. Things don’t happen overnight,” he says. It took him three years to get his first gallery showing and 12 years for his first large-scale outdoor commission — the one in Hershey. Dietel’s next major exhibit at the Schmidt Dean Gallery will be next fall. In the meantime, he was recently selected by the Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts as one of more than 20 artists to showcase work there, but he says that exhibit is presently on hold. SPR

Dietel Has A Way With Wood (John F. Morrison, Philadelphia Daily News)

“…he twists and molds and blends and cajoles wood into expressing his artistic will….”

The Philadelphia Daily News, Posted on on Monday, May 6, 2002

Dietel has a Way With Wood

By John F. Morrison

FRITZ DIETEL is a veritable magician with wood.

How he twists and molds and blends and cajoles wood into expressing his artistic will has amazed art lovers throughout the area.

One critic said his work “deals with the ambivalent relationship between the sensual and the technological.”

Along with the “upbeat, clean pragmatism of his approach, he manages to produce a visceral reaction.”

If you’re into visceral reactions and a little clean pragmatism, check out Dietel’s work at the Philadelphia International Airport.

The exhibit of his sculpture is now being viewed by harried travelers coping with crowds, security and delays in Terminal C.

The show is part of the airport’s ongoing exhibition program that has featured the work of many area and national artists.

Of Dietel’s abstract forms, another local critic said, “The viewer can’t help but marvel at the way he coaxes wood into improbable configurations by bending, laminating and steaming.”

In the airport show, his large-scale sculptures are described as “singular, simplified forms evocative of nature’s symmetry and sinuous growth.”

“It is the fluidity and simplicity of the finished form that ultimately defines his work.”

Dietel has shown his work in galleries and museums throughout the region, including the Fleisher Art Memorial, University of the Arts, both in Philadelphia, as well as the Main Line Art Center in Haverford, Moravian College in Bethlehem, and the Delaware Art Museum in Wilmington.

The airport exhibits have attracted widespread attention. How about this reaction from a traveler from Sydney, Australia, about a recent exhibit? “The art detracts from the hustle and bustle of the airport and is a welcome relief from the commercial visual images that abound everywhere.”

Two Sculptors Deserving Wider Acclaim (Edward Sozanski, The Philadelphia Inquirer)

“…perhaps it’s time for a museum to give him a midcareeer survey.”

The Philadelphia Inquirer, Friday, June 9, 2000

Two Sculptors Deserving Wider Acclaim

By Edward J. Sozanski, Inquirer Art Critic

…Fritz Dietel [is] committed to communicating… particular truths through the traditional avenue of form, materials, surface and color.

In his third solo exhibition at Schmidt/Dean Gallery, Dietel has filled the Spruce Street space with wood-constructed forms, some podlike, that are either inspired by nature or intended to evoke it.

A master of bending and shaping wood, Dietel has created a cynosure of this skill in Cloak, a large, curled floor sculpture. A dark-green ovoid form envelops a cigar-shaped one, as a mother might embrace a child. The technique is dazzling, but ultimately it’s the sheer beauty of the combination and the symbolic suggestion that makes Cloak a winner.

Dietel has long favored wood as his primary material, and these new pieces are mostly made of cedar strips layered like shells and fastened with twists of heavy copper wire, a new wrinkle in his work. The wire ends not only make the forms less cuddly, they create tiny points of animating light.

Dietel’s sculpture becomes stronger with each showing. This body of work suggests that perhaps it’s time for a museum to give him a midcareer survey.

Schmidt/Dean Gallery
1721 Spruce Street
Philadelphia, PA
Phone: 215-546-9577

Craftsmanship and Quality are Underlying Common Denominators at The Schmidt Dean Gallery in Philadelphia (Michele Boos, Art Tribune)

“…a progression of ideas which he shares with the viewer.”

Art Tribune, June/July 2000

Craftsmanship and Quality are Underlying Common Denominators
at The Schmidt Dean Gallery in Philadelphia

By Michelle Boos

Fritz Ditel’s show of New Sculptures is both innovative on a professional and personal level. His sculptures made out of a variety of woods, from white oak, to cedar and maple, are a reflection of the personal turmoil he underwent as an eagerly awaiting new parent. The works are very much womb shaped and show a slow progression towards birth without actually reaching it. In the culmination of the pieces, Cloak exudes a strong subconscious message suggesting that birth should not really unfold, for the strong protection from the womb would be lost. Not scared to show his vulnerable side when creating the pieces, Dietel is very much at ease to direct the viewer from less “imperfect” to more refined and complete pieces, for as he states a lot of his work is a progression of ideas which he shares with the viewer. And so we see that in his first piece, Brennoch, the spacing between the thin strands of copper wite is uneven. With each piece thereafter, the craftsmanship reaches its perfection, the artist reaching his goal of near perfection.

Schmidt/Dean Gallery
1721 Spruce Street
Philadelphia, PA
Phone: 215-546-9577

A Garden Where Sculpture Grows Abundant (Fred B. Adelson, The New York Times)

“…form and structure evoke the look of Martin Puryear…”

The New York Times, August 22, 1999

An excerpt from the review:
A Garden Where Sculpture Grows Abundant

By Fred B. Adelson

…Three exhibitions of contemporary sculpture are presented each year in the two fully renovated buildings dating from the 1920’s, originally pavillions for the sate fair. This summer’s group exhibition features 56 works by 44 members of the Sculptors Guild, a nonprofit professional organization based in Manhattan. Since its first public exhibition in 1938, the Guild has promoted contemporary sculpture in a variety of locations.

Guild membership, obtainable only by peer invitation, is based on “a sculptor’s creative ability and professional standing,” the organization states. Nonetheless, Brooke Barrie, the director and curator of Grounds for Sculpture, selected the show from slides submitted by the members. Artists in this show come from eight states, the District of Colmbia, Australia and Portugal…

…Fritz Dietel’s “Twist” is a graceful, calligraphic curve created with cypress strips. The form and construction evoke the look of Martin Puryear…

A Group Exhibition
Grounds for Sculpture
18 Fairground Road, Hamilton, NJ
Phone: 609-586-0616

Review (Edward J. Sozanski, The Philadelphia Inquirer)

“…new sculpture reveals both the influence of nature and a desire to let process become part of the aesthetic.”

The Philadelphia Inquirer, February 6, 1998

By Edward J. Sozanski, Inquirer Art Critic

Schmidt/Dean. In recent years, Fritz Dietel has moved progressively toward more expressive treatments in his assembled wood sculptures, while making them large and more reliant on natural-wood character. The result is work that stylistically has moved a considerable distance without losing touch with its beginnings.

Dietel’s exhibition of new sculpture at Schmidt/Dean’s Spruce Street gallery reveals both the influence of nature and a desire to let process become part of his aesthetic. Dietel is a superb craftsman, but in some of these sculptures he strives for a ragged, organic look.

This means exposing chunks of epoxy adhesive (there are lots of glue points in his sculptures) and dispensing with perfect fits and squared ends. His constructions haven’t become slapdash; rather, they express the rough but structurally beautiful overbuilding one finds in birds’ nests and beaver lodges.

Two sculptures in the front room express this ideal forcefully but in sharp contrast to each other. One is Twist, a sinuous, tapering cone of natural cypress slats that coils around itself in a graceful figure eight, The other is Burr, a 10-foot-tall, gray spiral that bristles with jagged protrusions.

Siren and Torch are both conical shapes that begin smoothly at the narrow end and conclude with a spiky flourish. Siren, assembled from redwood sticks fastened with gobs of epoxy that glisten like anthracite coal, resembles a hollow tree. Torch is a similar form inverted into a dark flambeau.

Oropendola, with its bulbous base and ragged top, stands in a corner like a blasted, hollow tree. A pear-shaped opening in the base can be seen only by looking inside the hollow. Creel, a pouchlike basket of cypress strips, offers another allusion to nature — in this case, a bird’s nest.

The show includes eight mixed-media drawing. Whether conceptual musings or formal studies, they enrich the mix considerably.

Schmidt/Dean Gallery
1721 Spruce Street, Philadelphia, PA 19103
Phone: 215-546-9577

Taking sculpture in Unexpected Direction (Edward J. Sozanski, The Philadelphia Inquirer)

“…he has become one of the most accomplished sculptors in this region.”

The Philadelphia Inquirer, November 10, 1995

Taking sculpture in unexpected direction

By Edward J. Sozanski, Inquirer Art Critic

Fritz Dietel’s sculpture has always displayed a consistent dedication to process. The viewer can’t help but marvel at the way he coaxes wood into improbable configurations by bending, laminating and steaming. Yet while these processes and the labor they entail is always evident, it’s the forms themselves that command the viewer’s attention.

In his show of new work at Schmidt/Dean Gallery, Dietel moves in unexpected directions. A large globular shape woven of white oak slats, open at the bottom and dyed yellow-green, resembles a huge ball of yarn — not exactly what we have come to expect from this artist.

On an adjoining wall is Helix, another piece that presents a novel form, but one tied more closely to Dietel’s earlier work. It begins with a flat, spade-like slab, then projects into space as an elongated corkscrew that terminates in a delicate point.

Contrast this with two heavy, shield-shaed pieces that resemble beetle carapaces. Despite lattice-like inserts in the center, these pieces project a feeling of mass and strength — again, qualities less characteristic of earlier work.

Fish’s Web is exactly the opposite, a teardrop-shaped network of wood that wraps into itself. It’s a three-dimensional drawing that defines a volume of ambiguous negative space.

In the wall piece called Swift, Dietel combines several virtuoso effects — an elongation to a point, folded-over top and a complex pattern of ridges achieved through lamination. Swift demonstrates how absolute command of a medium can translate into stunning visual effects.

When I saw the announcement for this show, I thought for a moment that Dietel had gone off on a tangent. But the show indicates that he’s merely inventing new extrapolations of his basic vocabulary. It also confirms that he has become one of the most accomplished sculptors in this region.

Schmidt/Dean Gallery
1721 Spruce Street, Philadelphia, PA 19103
Phone: 215-546-9577

Review (Edward J. Sozanski, The Philadelphia Inquirer)

“…continues to devise imaginative ways to enliven basic geometry.”

The Philadelphia Inquirer, October 29, 1993

An excerpt from the review of the:
Samuel Fleisher Art Memorial Challenge #2 Exhibition

by Edward J. Sozanski, Inquirer Art Critic

… The principal attraction this time is the constructed wood sculpture of Fritz Dietel, who continues to devise imaginative ways to enliven basic geometry.

In the past, Dietel has often improvised on a form that resembles a flower bud to explore the spatial implications of inside/outside. His section of Challenge #2 includes two such pieces that are much more linear and open than any he has shown before.

One of these, Prelude II, exposes the elaborate process of lamination and shaping that Dietel uses; it’s exposed because the artist has left this piece unpainted. The other “bud” piece is closed form with another, smaller one inside, like a ship in a bottle.

Dietel first broke symmetry with tight spirals such as the elegant wall piece included here. The pegged lapstrake construction not only contributes to its formal appeal, it suggests a connection with boats and, by extension, with the sea.

The most exciting pieces are two larger wall sculptures in which he has extruded spirals into fluid ribbons. The sense of architecture has given way to an evocation of motion — in one case up the wall and in the other down…

Samuel Fleisher Art Memorial
709-721 Catharine Street, Philadelphia, PA 19147
Phone: 215-922-3456

Sculptural Studies in Space and Movement (Edward J. Sozanski, The Philadelphia Inquirer)

The Philadelphia Inquirer, December 27, 1990

Sculptural studies in space and movement

By Edward J. Sozanski, Inquirer Art Critic

Fritz Dietel’s sculptures in the McKinney Gallery of West Chester University wrestle with a basic problem: how to transform a static object made of rigid material into one that suggests movement.

His solutions, put forth in these 11 pieces, take two forms. Some sculptures extrapolate form a simple spiral — in several cases, the “spiral” is just a single twist. Other, larger ones assume a bulbous form, composed of projecting fingers, that suggests an incipient spreading gesture, like a flower about to unfold.

The sculptures come in various sizes, from large floor pieces like Polar Star to tabletop ones. The largest is Spellman, two curved and pleated walls that form a partial enclosure. It’s a massive piece that makes a much stronger impression in an outdoor setting like the Fairmount Park arboretum, where it was seen several years ago in the annual outdoor show curated by Marsha Moss.

Ten of the sculptures are made of wood finished with glossy enamel or epoxy surfaces; the other is a small bronze. Except for several patches or wood that Dietel has left exposed for aesthetic effect, the nature of the material isn’t a factor; instead, the viewer becomes involved in form, color and gesture.

In every piece, that dialogue involves an interplay between interior and exterior, between encirclement and the negative space enclosed. Color plays a major force in this exchange: The exteriors are usually dark, the interiors light or bright. Texture does, too: One often finds a contrast between smooth and rough.

At their heart, though, these pieces speak through there forms. They’re all abstracitons, in that they don’t represent anything in nature, and yet two of the smaller ones can be read as vaguely figurative. The “bulbs,” with their fingers reaching out from a central core, suggest exotic blossoms.

Dietel is a conscientious craftsman; the pieces are beautifully made and finished, and the minor-key colors are lustrous and luscious. The best works, like Polar Star and a similar piece called Cutout, emanate an animated spirit that seems incongruous for such uncomplicated, basically symmetrical forms.

Even the largest pieces feel delicate; they rest lightly on the floor, as if they were about to levitate. They establish a powerful visual presence in the gallery, which is ideally suited to showing them off.

Dietel, who lives in Philadelphia, has been making steady progress in his work over the last several years, although he always seems to be showing out of town. In this, his most impressive show to date, he demonstrates that he’s ready for prime time.

McKinney Gallery, Mitchell Hall
West Chester University, University Avenue and Church Street,
West Chester, PA
Phone: 610-436-2755