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ECU alumnus builds cabinet to spotlight Country Doctor Museum exhibit

By Crystal Baity
ECU News Services

ECU alumnus and furniture maker Stuart Kent has created a display cabinet for exhibition of medical history artifacts at Laupus Library. Photos by Cliff Hollis
GREENVILLE, N.C.   (June 22, 2012)   —   A trip to the doctor could include a history lesson at the East Carolina University Family Medicine Center.

Laupus Library commissioned Stuart Kent, an ECU alumnus and Greenville furniture maker and designer, to craft a 14-foot black cherry wood-and-glass display cabinet for the second floor of the center to highlight exhibits from the Country Doctor Museum.

The Bailey museum is operated by the health sciences library.

The first rotating exhibit, "Compounding Remedies: Tools of the Trade from Early Pharmacies," will feature artifacts used by country doctors and pharmacists including a turn-of-the-century show globe. Show globes were vases filled with colored liquid used by apothecaries, pharmacies and drug stores to let customers know they could compound medicine. Other artifacts will give insight on how remedies were measured, mixed and dispensed.

Kent built tables and chairs for the history collections reading room on the fourth floor of Laupus Library following graduate school and an apprenticeship with Paul Gianino of Greenville, who created bookcases to house the library's rare and historic collections.

Kent recently received a Fulbright Award, and the display case will be one of several jobs he finishes before leaving for Costa Rica later this year. There, he will teach woodworking and environmentally sensitive harvesting techniques as well as studying sustainable tropical hardwoods.

The display cabinet is the largest free-standing piece of furniture Kent has made, although he has completed much larger sculpture exhibitions. He is known for his tall clocks, furniture and six-to-eight-foot sculpted wooden vessels on exhibit in the United States and abroad. He often incorporates cast bronze or iron as elements of his wooden pieces.

Working in his 1,000-square-foot studio on East Third Street in Greenville, he likes to repurpose wood from existing pieces.

"I feel sculpture has a lifespan," he said. "I like to make new things with it."

The Family Medicine Center display case, weighing an estimated 1,500 pounds, will feature low-energy Leadership in Energy and Environmental, or LEED, track lighting in keeping with Kent's dedication to the environment and sustainability.

"All the wood is from North Carolina," he said. "I try to keep everything as American as I can."

The cabinet, with 5-inch crown molding, 7-inch base molding and massive quarter-inch glass doors, ends and shelves, is scheduled to be moved in three pieces and assembled on site this month depending on the weather.

"All the finishes are hand-rubbed, shellacked finishes which reacts with humidity," he said. "Wood is an organic material. It's always going to expand and contract."

Coincidentally, Kent's first woodworking job was in Bailey, the site of the Country Doctor Museum, where his family moved from New Mexico when he was in high school. He worked with Glenn Perry, owner of Woodworking Unlimited, who introduced him to the business.

"I like working with wood because I like the way it feels, I like the way it smells, I like the way it cuts," he said. "I like it because it's a natural thing. It's very rewarding."

Kent, 36, received bachelor's degrees in sculpture and wood design in 2005 and a master's of fine arts in sculpture in 2008. His wife, Susan, also an ECU alumnus, received a bachelor's degree in biology in 2004 and is a researcher in the Brody School of Medicine physiology department.

Fulbright honor Stuart Kent, owner of Stuart Kent & Co. fine art and furniture of Greenville, has been awarded an at-large Fulbright Scholar grant to lecture and research on the campuses of the National University of Costa Rica and the Tropical Forestry Initiative field station Los Arboles during the 2012-2013 academic year.

Kent is one of approximately 1,100 professionals and faculty from the United States who will travel abroad through the Fulbright U.S. Scholar Program.

"I will work with citizens to sustainably harvest timbers and teach basic furniture making," he said. "There is not a real rich heritage of furniture making in that area like there is in Brazil and Mexico."

He will teach methodologies and use environmentally sensitive techniques to harvest and prepare lumber for sale from two species of widely unknown, sustainable tropical hardwoods. Kent also will teach free public workshops and college classes on wood joinery and finishing and will work closely with faculty and administrators at the National University of Costa Rica to develop a curriculum for furniture design. He will organize exhibitions in museums, galleries and private businesses to demonstrate possible uses for the trees.

The Fulbright Program is the flagship international educational exchange program sponsored by the U.S. government designed to increase mutual understanding between the people of the United States and the people of other countries. Recipients are selected based on academic or professional achievement and demonstrated leadership potential in their fields. Established in 1946, the program operates in more than 155 countries worldwide.

Kent is planning to set up a video log to post daily from Costa Rica later this year at, and he is on Twitter at @stuartkentart.

Kent works along the edge of a drawer in the display case he created for Laupus Library.
Kent works along the edge of a drawer in the display case he created for Laupus Library.


Contact: Crystal Baity | 252-744-3764