Steam Bending with Adriane Colburn

Marie Sykes

Vol 52 Issue 1


There’s an art to steam-bending wood, and Adriane Colburn has it on display at the Berman Museum of Art, exhibit opening February 8th. Colburn is the Berman’s artist-in-residence for 2024 and has spent the last month installing since December her sculptures across the bottom floor. Visit her as she explores the lines between where nature becomes a resource, and how she bends wood to depict concepts.

One of the Berman’s first events of the semester was Colburn’s wood steam -bending demonstration, open to Ursinus and the general public on January 27th. Though based out of San Francisco and New Jersey, she highlighted that she wanted to work with woods with meaning to Ursinus and Pennsylvania. She examined wood felled on Ursinus grounds, like a walnut tree from a few years ago (“aged wood”) and cherry and ash from the last few weeks (“green wood”), and explained her process.

When it comes to wood that has been cut and milled, there is green wood and aged wood. Green wood refers to freshly cut wood, so it is much wetter and heavier than the aged or dry wood you would find ready-to-use. To dry the wood, it must sit out to air dry for two-three years (depending on plank thickness) or it must be dried in a kiln. She prefers the aged wood to steam bend.

To steam bend the wood, she cuts thin strips of wood and places them into a long PVC pipe that she pumps steam into. The wood stays in place for an hour per inch, though typically these are about half an inch thick. Once the ligaments in the wood are heated, she curves them as in the images, using pegs and molds as supports before she clamps them to cool overnight.

Seeing the process behind the art adds perspective to the exhibit, which you can find in the lower floor of the Berman beginning February 8th at the official opening of the museum’s spring exhibits at 5pm.

To end, Colburn spoke on how she uses wood as a medium. “I’m using it as a drawing tool,” she stated during the demo. “Artists just make things up… somebody else who’s making furniture is going to have a very different approach to steam bending.” In this process, she works to “make intricate shapes” of the wood “but also respond to the piece of wood and how I see it bending.” Meet Adriane Colburn at the opening or check out her work displayed at the museum.