Tuesday, July 17

Today was a fairly quiet, intensive work day.

Lesya came in not to dance but to carve waves for Siegfried’s collaborative wave piece. Sadly, there were misunderstandings early on in the communication process for this collaboration, and Sean and Jean-François won’t be working on it. Happily, Peter did and Lesya is and I will and Elisabeth may. And in the end, the public also will, as the piece will be installed as an interactive work, with anyone free to arrange the wave forms as they like.

Lesya carves waves.

Siegfried continued carving his box elder vessel. He later found that mounting it on the lathe to carve let him see and control better what he was doing.

Siegfried carves a box elder vessel.

Siegfried carves on the lathe for better position.

Sean worked on new and old pieces. The black in this one is not painted but ebony.

Sean paints a new piece.

Jean-François and I began our collaboration, based on an idea I used in a previous work, of breaking and repairing vessels visibly. Here are the vessels we started with. Jean-François turned the Chinese elm and osage orange bowls; I turned the sycamore bowl (the smallest).

Jean-François's and my bowls.

Breaking the piece takes a bit of will. We broke the sycamore bowl into just three pieces.

I break the first bowl.

Jean-François hit the Chinese elm bowl squarely and got a complicated break, which made gluing it—using 5-minute epoxy with a working time of maybe 2 minutes—a real challenge. Adding acrylic paint to the epoxy for color decreases (maybe even halves) the working time, so I use 30-minute epoxy at home. The 5-minute version is what we had on hand here, though. (For anyone who wants to know more about coloring epoxy, I discuss the subject in an article called “Nulling Voids: Filling Cracks and Holes in Wood” that, along with other articles, is available on my website under “Other links.”)

Jean-François's broken second bowl.

We used red for the sycamore and black for the Chinese elm. I mixed the red from acrylic paints; the black we achieved by mixing in charcoal from burnt wood (which Jean-François happened to have in jar).

I like the way the interior of the sycamore bowl came out; the exterior needs some touchup, though.

The interior of the first glued bowl.The exterior of the first glued bowl.

This technique—this trope, really—is deeply meaningful for me (you can read a note about the backstory on this here, under “About the work”), and it is one I intend to explore in a series of works after I return home. Using it in this collaboration is a little odd for me—like choosing a subject like, say, “death” or “incest” for a poetic exercise—and I find myself holding back emotionally, treating the process as more of a technical exercise than an act of artmaking. I would like to talk with Jean-François about how he feels about this process—indeed, how he feels about artmaking in general. I have wanted to from the beginning—the chance to explore the subject with other artists is one reason I applied for the residency—but before now, I have felt stymied by the language barrier—even though Siegfried and I managed a deep conversation about it driving home from D.C. This now is an opportunity to explore the subject.

For me, turning is deeply emotional, not just an application of technique, and it is an act in which meaning is both intentional and discovered. For me, the aspect of meaning—not technical sophistication—is what makes turning an art and not just a craft. I can argue with myself about this, of course—is not craft about creating beauty and is not creating beauty meaning enough? Yes, yes—but I’ll put this statement out in hopes of eliciting conversation about it. Turners who regard yourselves as artists (any artists, really), what do you say? Have your objects meaning? Is the meaning intentional? Do you start with wanting to express something, or does the expression emerge through the work? How do you create? Have you something to say? Must an artist have something to say? Is it enough to create objects in which others find their own meaning? Is beauty enough? Do any of you care, or do you care only about the making?

I really must sleep now. Let me hear from you, readers.

Hello, world!

Well, now that I have my template set up, I guess it’s time to start writing.

I created this blog primarily to document the International Turning Exchange in Philadelphia (ITE) this summer, but since I’ve gone through the trouble to set it up, I’m going to use it also as a place to record thoughts about my work in general as a maker of turned wood art vessels.

I guess I’ll start at the obvious beginning point: who I am—namely, an erstwhile-writer-cum-editor-turned-professional-woodturner.

After many years of writing and editing and designing and laying out books, in October 2002, I was working as document production manager at an archaeological firm in Tucson. As such, I was responsible for editing and producing the firm’s technical reports and books and other materials. I liked the work, but the company was poorly managed, and I had been working there under unrelenting deadline pressure for seven long years. I had lobbied hard to change how things were done, but nothing had improved. By this point, I was angry all the time. My soul was screaming, and I had to make a change or die. I asked myself what I would rather do, and the answer that came to me was “turn wood.”

Now, I had never turned wood before. I loved wood and had collected a few fine vessels (thank you, Bob Rice!), but I had never turned—indeed, I’d never even seen a vessel turned. But I knew what a lathe was and the basic principle of turning, and I had a feeling.

I gave notice and left my job November 1. I couldn’t get into a woodturning class for two more months, but I got registered and I was ready. On January 10, 2003, I stood at a lathe for the first time and turned my first bowl, and I knew I’d found my calling.

I’ve been doing it full-time ever since.

The turning is a joy. The marketing is a challenge. I’m still learning how to make a living at this new career, and I’ll no doubt be writing about that challenge here. But I’m alive again. And from my hands now comes beauty.