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Painting with wood
Herbert Albin’s work on display at Roots Up

LESLIE LOVELL is no stranger to a good auction.

As the owner of Roots Up Gallery, which celebrates folk art, much of her job involves going to auctions or watching them online.

“Generally, I’m not able to go to the auctions,” Lovell says. “I’m usually watching them online or calling.”

However, for a recent auction outside Atlanta, Lovell was able to make the trip. There, she found her new obsession: Herbert Albin’s marquetry collection.

“It was such a massive collection,” remembers Lovell. “Including the little pieces, there might be 80.”

Lovell knew she had to have the stunning pieces. She purchased the collection, which is the last of Albin’s life work, and is showing them at Roots Up now through March 23.

“His family had selected a few pieces to ship back to Germany because they couldn’t ship them all,” says Lovell. “He had some furniture that looked like French pieces. Luckily, I didn’t get there early enough to get those!”

Part of what fascinates Lovell about the work is that she knows so little about the artist.

“I wish I knew more about him, but I think that’s what drew me to his work, the more I kept looking at it,” says Lovell. “When they brought out more pieces, they were all in boxes, and I was just so drawn to it.”

As Lovell fell in love with the pieces, she began learning more about Albin and his life.

“I’ve learned a lot from this,” Lovell shares. “I’ve been studying, trying to figure out more about his work. It’s a puzzle in some ways.”

Albin passed away in 2006, so the information Lovell has been collecting is all secondhand. He was born in Germany in 1919 and immigrated to the United States with his wife Stella.

“He was originally from Germany. His family had selected a few pieces to ship back to Germany because they couldn’t ship them all,” says Lovell. “It being a folk art auction, someone said that he was trained, but in what I don’t know.”

Throughout his life, Albin was a violinist, eventually becoming the concertmaster for the symphony orchestras of Charleston and Augusta. The music that filled Albin’s life inspired him in his artwork as well.

“He was a violinist, and these woods are all tone woods used to make stringed instruments,” says Lovell. “When you look at it that way, some of them could almost be a concert themselves. I would think that played into his style to a large degree.”

Albin’s work has been compared to Music of the Spheres, a philosophical concept that sees celestial movement as a form of music.

Marquetry is an ancient art form that uses inlaid materials to create meticulous, complex pieces.

“I’ve seen the marquetry and it’s been around forever,” says Lovell. “There’s only been a few people who have done it. I don’t think it’s done very often, and that’s what drew me to it. You could just feel how much work and concentration went into that.”