A visit with the Rhoas

We finally connected with Peter on Sunday. He had difficulty getting into the dorm when he arrived Saturday evening, but all has been resolved now, and he is settling into the shop as well.

Sunday evening after a fairly quiet day in the shop, we all headed out to Collegeville, PA, to visit Greg and Regina Rhoa. There, we were treated to a feast for the eyes as well as the lips. They have proportionally less wood art than in other collections we have seen, because they have so much art of other media (glass, ceramics, metal, mixed media, paintings, prints), and some of their wood art is furniture. It is all beautifully displayed, with pieces of whatever media complementing each other wonderfully. My photos fail to capture the whole ambiance (my lens wasn’t wide enough), so I have elected to focus instead on some of the largest groupings of wood in their home. Remember as you look at the photos below: you may think you are looking at all wood, but the pieces you see may in fact be ceramic or glass. I very much enjoyed the mix of media.

In the Rhoas' sunroom.

In one of the Rhoas' bedrooms.

More in that bedroom.

Still more in that bedroom.

In the Rhoas' master bathroom.

Dinner with the Rhoas. Jean-François took this photo.

After savoring their collection, they treated us to a delicious home-cooked Puerto Rican dinner. Greg, apparently, is a gourmet chef, and Regina, a gourmet baker. Notice the Mark Sfirri pieces on the table.

A brief tour of the workshop

This is Anderson Hall, the building on Broad Street that houses the University of the Arts Wood Department (among others). The wood shop is on the fourth floor.

The UArts building where we work.

I digress, but this is the more interesting (architecturally speaking) building next door: the (former) Chambers-Wylie Memorial Presbyterian Church, which now houses the Broad Street Ministry.

The church next door.

The old Chambers-Wylie sign.

The old Chambers-Wylie sign.

Back to the UArts building. When you get off the elevator at the fourth floor, this is what you see. And, yes, the lights are often off, since not many other people are working in the building over the summer.

The Wood Department.

The front room of the wood shop houses most of the woodworking equipment and our wood piles.

Inside the wood shop.

The other side of the wood shop.

The other side of the wood shop from the other end.

The second room of the shop is where we’ve spread out the boxes of stuff we got from the Wood Turning Center. These contain tools and supplies left over from past ITEs. The cupboards at the end of the room house all manner of hand tools: carving chisels, hand saws, hammers, mallets, screwdrivers, planes, etc.

The second room of the wood shop.

Here’s where you enter the Magic Kingdom. My work station is the first one you see, straight ahead.

The entrance to the room where we turn.

We have four lathes back here: three Oneways and a Stubby. We each have at least one workbench, a few lamps, and a lockable cupboard.

My work area.

Jean-François works across from me, so I’m most familiar with what he’s up to throughout the day.

Jean-François's work area.

Behind him is Siegfried’s area.

Siegfried's work area.

Sean’s corner is behind me and across from Siegfried.

Sean's work area.

We have piled the turning tools and lathe accessories from the Wood Turning Center on one workbench between Siegfried and Sean so that they are easily accessible.

Turning tools and lathe accessories.

Behind Siegfried is a shared carving station.

The carving station.

The turning room as seen from the corner behind Siegfried. The area in the far background is storing unused workbenches. We will clear space there for Peter, who showed up at the shop this morning.

The turning room.

A look at where we live

This is the Pine Street view of Furness Hall, our dormitory.

Furness Hall.

The Pine Street entrance to the Furness Hall complex. We can park here to unload. The window to the right of the entrance is the security guards’ office.

Furness Hall.

Through that entrance is a courtyard. Our rooms are across the courtyard, through this entrance, past vending machines, and up the elevator. Out of the picture to the right is Hamilton Hall.

Inside the Furness Hall courtyard.

This is what greets us after we get of the elevator and open the door to the third-floor hallway.

Third-floor mural.

Behind us when we turn the corner is another mural.

Another third-floor mural.

Looking back down the hallway toward the elevator. Jean-François’s door is on the left closest to the mural, the second door is to the community room, and the foreground door is to a room still empty, perhaps for Elisabeth Agro, our scholar.

The third-floor hallway.

My living area. To the left is a refrigerator and a desk, where I pile bags. The kitchen area is to the right, along with entrances to the bedrooms. I’ve just finished a puzzle on this table, which is also where I eat and read the weekly newspapers. The rooms are very tall, so the light from the overhead lamp is very dim and the rooms are fairly dark at night (I brightened this photo considerably).

My living area.

My kitchen area. I try not to use the oven, as the air-conditioning unit is only in the bedroom. We have a microwave oven and pots and pans in the community room down the hall. At the far right is the corridor to the bedroom I don’t use. The door next to the fire extinguisher is to the bathroom. As you can see, I keep my tripod next to the cupboard where I occasionally photograph vessels.

My kitchen area.

My bathroom and the hallway to the bedroom I use, along which is a doorless closet containing a bureau. Below is the closet itself.

My bathroom.The hallway to my bedroom.

My closet.

Here is where I spend many hours working on photographs and writing the blog. I can get only the faintest of wifi signals in my room, so I can’t do much online from my desk, but I can size photos and draft text. And listen to music while I work. I ripped some 180 hours of music from my CD collection before I left, and I’m glad to have it. And I bless every day the past ITEr who left this cushion behind. This wooden chair was pretty uncomfortable before I found the pillow among the ITE stuff.

My desk.

My bureau and the desk I use as a nightstand. This is definitely dorm living: I spent fifteen minutes cleaning the gummy residue off of this desk before I could set anything down on it.

My bureau and nightstand.

My bed. I stole a mattress from the other bedroom so that I could double up. The two mattresses together are just soft enough to sleep comfortably. The top mattress is so stained and torn that I did not want to sleep on it even as the bottom of two mattresses, so I left it up top to pile my laundry and laptop bag on.

My bed.

The window air-conditioning unit. I have used it surprisingly little, but there have been a few days when being without it would have been really uncomfortable. I have no doubt I will be using it a lot more in July.

The air-conditioner.

My living area as seen from the bedroom door. The cables hanging by the door just hang there.

Another view of my living area.

Leaving my luxury suite, I often take the stairs down instead of the elevator.

The stairwell.

Going down the stairs takes me into the lovely part of the courtyard, which, as befits a university of the arts, is full of sculptures.

Courtyard sculpture.

I love the voluptuous goddess figure lurking behind the Buddha.

More courtyard sculptures.

There are also benches and tables in the courtyard area. I sometimes sit down here to go online, as does Jean-François. The entrance to our building is in the glare beyond the benches. The building to the right is Hamilton Hall.

The courtyard.

Hamilton Hall is the closest place to get a strong wifi connection, so this is where you will find me and Jean-François after dinner, in various (separate) nooks and corners.

Inside Hamilton Hall.

The near end of Hamilton Hall.

Also in Hamilton Hall, is the UArts Cantina, where from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. you can get eggs, a bagel, a sandwich, a salad, coffee, etc. This is the view I usually have, as I sit in the open area (below) at night to work on the blog and make video calls without disturbing anyone.

The closed cantina.

The open end of the cantina.

Life outside the workshop?

A previous ITEr has suggested that I share something about life in the ITE outside the workshop: “where we live, where we eat, where we walk . . . the stuff of life in the ITE.” This raises an interesting point about this year’s ITE: how focused on work we are.

Unlike what I understand to be true of past ITEs, since we actually began working, we four hardly see each other outside of the workshop. We don’t eat together; we don’t drink together; we don’t hang out together; we don’t walk around together; we don’t socialize together, except on our planned excursions. Some combination of us (but not all at once) will occasionally go to the hardware or grocery store together, especially if we need to drive there.

There is comradery and good humor in the shop when we’re working together. Most of us stop and look at what our colleagues are doing. We ask and answer questions. We share pointers. We share tools. We make jokes. We work.

Sometimes I think I talk to everyone more than anyone else, because I walk around periodically to take photos and I ask (at the least) about whatever I’m photographing. I’m not sure I would ever have a conversation with Sean if not for this function.

As far as I know, Siegfried is the only one who does anything but work. Sean comes in early, takes a long lunch, comes back, and works late. Sometimes Sean goes out to buy supplies. Jean-François comes in early but not so early, takes a long lunch, comes back, and works late. Sometimes Jean-François runs errands. I come in later (early for me, sometimes after working in my room on the computer for a couple of hours), work through lunch, and leave at 6:30 or 7 or 7:30 or 7:45 to eat and call home, and then I work on photos and the blog until 11 or 12 or 1 or later. I see Jean-François in passing when we go next door at night to go online (we don’t have wifi in our rooms). Siegfried takes the time to walk or bike around town, to eat out, to look around, to meet people. Tonight, he made himself go out despite his fatigue, and he happened upon a rock concert, where he had a good time.

Working double duty takes its toll. I’m exhausted every night, and I fear it shows in my blog posts. I feel like I don’t have the extra energy to socialize. Then again, tonight I went out for dinner and a beer with Jane and her honey (my first evening out), and I’m still up and going, though it’s now 3:15—not an unusual hour for me to be up at home, but not a time I’ve managed to see here until now.

For my part, another reason I don’t socialize with the boys is that I’m tired of planning our group’s social activities. I have ended up planning all of our visits, contacting all of our hosts, finding compatible dates, recontacting our hosts, getting directions, driving us—this is not a role I enjoy, but these are trips I want to make, so I’ve stepped up to make them happen. I have spent many hours doing so, and just the trip to D.C. alone was worth the effort, but—can you tell?—I’ve reached my limit. I wish that the Wood Turning Center would take on some of this task, but the one time I asked for help, the scheduling ended up back in my lap.

I want to turn. To turn nearly as much as I’d like, I spend what otherwise might be free time keeping up with photos and the blog. And I feel pressure to turn. I’m sure Siegfried does also. The current of Sean’s and Jean-François’s drive to produce is sweeping us all along. I feel the pressure to keep up despite what I know about my own need for balance, despite what I tell myself about taking in this experience, despite what Albert has told us about not needing to produce but needing only to experience.

There is exchange happening, for me, in the shop. In my turning, I find myself responding to what others are doing or to conversations I’ve had with them (I will try to relay some of these conversations in future posts; I’ve had a few good ones). What I see and hear sparks ideas, and I’m trying them. It’s not imitation, though I’m borrowing some techniques; it’s inspiration: I’m inhaling everything around me and letting my body translate what my blood absorbs into my own expression. According to Albert, this is a form of collaboration, and it feels like it, though I haven’t yet actively worked on any pieces with anyone else. Siegfried and Jean-François have both spoken with me separately about collaborating. Jean-François and I have a specific project in mind. Siegfried and I are still sussing out the possibilities.

Time to go to the shop, dear readers. This is how it is at the moment, here in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, at the 2007 International Turning Exchange. I’m not complaining (much!); I have tried to simply describe what is so. This may all change today. Peter Harrison, our furniture maker, arrives this afternoon to spend two weeks with us. And tomorrow evening, we take a little break to visit the Rhoas in Collegeville, PA. For now, this has been a valuable reminder that there can be life outside of the workshop here in the ITE. I just have to step outside.

Friday, June 29

I forgot to include my favorite photo from yesterday. Jane, the shop supervisor, is our official problem solver, without whom we couldn’t spend nearly as much time working. In the course of solving our problems, she has to spend a lot of time on the phone: ordering supplies and equipment, securing a phone for us in the shop, finding a place to buy a used bike—you pose the problem, she’ll figure it out.

Jane discusses yet another catalog order on the phone.

And can I add how grateful I am to have another woman around?

Jean-François continues on with his oak bowls. He has decided that what was to be the third bowl in his latest series is too different from the first two, so he’ll keep the pair together, but make two more to go with the third bowl. (Note: Despite how they appear in these photos, the third bowl is slightly smaller—and thinner-walled—than the first two.)

Jean-François's newest pair of finished oak bowls.The start of a new series.

What's next for Jean-François.

Sean has installed the legs on his walnut bowl and is finishing them up. This is the underside of the piece, but you can see bleaching that seeped through from his bleaching of the bowl itself.

Sean works on the walnut bowl.

This is another scrap Sean pulled from the pile to turn. I suppose it can be considered another collaboration with me, since I cut the arc you see in order to remove a piece to use as a jam chuck.

Sean turns another scrap.

I had fun working on my cherry bowl today. I recut the surface along two of the axes before I liked what I had, then I carved a little on the top using spherical cutters in the Foredom. The top surface and the bowl are smooth; the exterior is covered with gouge marks—which were surprisingly hard to create consistently. A sharp gouge just wants to cut cleanly. I had to be sure to stay off of the bevel to leave cut marks. I’m not sure how I feel about this bowl. It’s completely unlike anything I have ever made before (which is one of the opportunities of the ITE, after all), and at one point I had titled it “Ugly on Four Axes.” It has grown on me, however, and I think I may like it. These pictures don’t do it justice.

My multiaxis cherry bowl.Another view of my multiaxis cherry bowl.

Siegfried wasn’t in the shop a lot today. I’m concerned about his continuing lack of energy. His heart rate isn’t back to normal either. What would you do in a foreign country with a condition that is no longer considered “emergent” but isn’t nearly “cured”? Could you afford to do anything about it? Can he afford not to?

Thursday, June 28

This morning, Sean laid out and drilled a series of holes in his “running man” sculpture using Forstner bits on the drill press.

Sean drills a series of holes in his new freeform sculpture.The current state of Sean's new freeform sculpture.

Later, Sean did more carving on the triangular walnut bowl. In addition to texturing the surface more, he has carved out recesses for the legs around the holes in two of the corners. You can see two legs lying behind the bowl, one highly carved, one not—at least, not yet.

Sean's triangular walnut bowl.

He also worked on his fourth oak bowl, carving the exterior and then adding silver or blue-gray paint.

Sean carves his fourth oak bowl.Sean paints his fourth oak bowl.

Below is proof that Jean-François does sand, despite all the carving and texturing he does.

He has nearly finished (except for the foot) the first of this series of colored and carved oak bowls. In the lower photos, he is working on the second of this series. Again, he is using the Arbortech reciprocating carver to cut the grooves, which he then will touch up with a Foredom.

In contrast to the first bowl, Jean-François has used white acrylic paint to fill the grooves and open grain of the second bowl. I believe he has not finished rubbing out the interior in the final photo.

Jean-François sands a new oak bowl.Jean-François's carved, almost finished bowl from yesterday.

Jean-François begins carving the second bowl of this series.The carved bowl, with white acrylic paint rubbed into the grooves and open grain.

Siegfried was back in the shop today, but working at half speed. He continued working on inside-out-turned shapes, experimenting with an unorthodox means of shaping the pieces, on a belt sander. He is hoping that a good meal and some sleep will further restore his energy for tomorrow.

Siegfried tries using a belt sander to start an inside-out turning.Siegfried turns the pieces he has prepped.

I got to turn a lot today. I finished the turning of my pear vessel, pictured below. It has a round bottom that cups nicely in the palm. I have begun carving the mouth, as you can see, a departure from my previous work. I will finish the carving after I pick up some new Dremel bits tomorrow.

My new pear vessel, partially carved.

I also started a multiaxis cherry bowl, using four different centers on the bottom and keeping the same center on the top. I’m just playing really. My first go at it was unimpressive, but I went back and changed the curve and I’m beginning to like what’s emerging. I’ll work with it more tomorrow.

Wednesday, June 27

Siegfried was absent from the shop this morning, and we soon learned from a phone call that he was at the hospital undergoing tests. He has not been feeling well the past few days, and he noticed that his heart was racing and wouldn’t slow down. (His pulse, which is normally around 60, was stuck at around 100–110 beats per minute.) The hospital did not find a reason for his racing heart, but they gave him something to slow it down. He came back from the hospital, but did not stay at the shop. We hope he will be back turning with us tomorrow. In the meantime, here are some of the shapes he turned yesterday using the inside-out technique. He is thinking of doing more and assembling them into a piece.

Inside-out-turned shapes on Siegfried's workbench.

Sean, the inveterate recycler, has taken two of the largest fragments of my broken mulberry bowl (see the post “Monday, June 18” if you don’t remember what I’m referring to) and turned them to create a new piece. Below, you see two views of the larger fragment on the lathe. Sean kept shifting the center—four or five times in all, I think—to make different cuts.

A collaboration of sorts with Sean, in mulberry.Another view of the mulberry piece.

After turning the two fragments using multiple centers, he screwed them together temporarily to check their fit and balance. He liked what he saw once he aligned the grain in the two fragments, so he glued them up and clamped them in the lathe. He will carve them next.

A test to see how the two pieces fit together.The two pieces glued together.

Remember the sculpture I called “the mascot”? It is done, except perhaps for another coat of finish. Here it is in a cupboard with Sean’s third oak bowl. This one has a dyed green interior.

In the righthand photo below is the beginning of a new freeform sculpture. Sean has much carving to do on it, but you can see the grooves and shapes made already by turning the scraps. He sees in it a running man, but the name has been used too many times already, so he will come up with another title.

Sean's finished freeform sculpture and an oak bowl.The beginning of another freeform sculpture.

This is the current state of two of the oak ring pieces still to be assembled into a sculpture. In the background to the right, you can see Sean’s fourth oak bowl, the last of the series.

Ring parts for the oak piece started before.

Jean-François turned a new oak bowl. Having completed the turning (except for the foot), he is cutting grooves into the exterior using an Arbortech reciprocating carver, following lines that he drew freehand. You can see that he has already colored the interior using his favorite vinegar-and-steel-wool technique.

Jean-François uses an Arbortech to carve a new oak bowl.Another view of Jean-François using an Arbortech to carve his new oak bowl.

Albert LeCoff came by the shop this morning with Phil Hauser, treasurer of the Wood Turning Center and himself a turner and a collector. Here, he admires the bowl Sean turned of a walnut scrap.

Phil Hauser and Albert LeCoff visit the shop.

Besides following up on group plans with phone calls and email, I finally got to turn some today. I turned most of a hollow vessel of wet pear (which is lovely to turn). I plan to finish turning it tomorrow and to carve the mouth. Maybe I’ll get a photo tomorrow.

It is pouring rain outside as I wrap up this post. Tomorrow, we can expect thunderstorms, a treat for an Arizonan.

The ITE dancer

For those of you (including us!) who have been wondering what a dancer might contribute to the ITE, here is an answer. Below is a video produced by Vincent Romaniello, last year’s photojournalist, of an event that was part of the opening of Siegfried’s exhibition at the Wood Turning Center last year. The dancer in the video is Lesya Popil, the same dancer who will be joining us for a week in July and who, we hope, will be performing at the “allTURNatives” opening. If the embedded video does not appear below, click to view the video on YouTube.

Tuesday, June 26

Okay, I’m beginning to try to catch up. I didn’t feel well enough to turn today, but I did make it into the shop, and here is what I found.

Sean was carving on a new bowl, from a walnut scrap, which will eventually have three legs; if you look closely, you can see holes for the legs in two of the corners.

Sean carves a new bowl.

Some of Sean's finished pieces.

Above are some of the pieces Sean has finished; others are close to being finished. Below, a new piece is still on the lathe.

A new bowl awaits on the lathe.

Jean-François has been busy. The lefthand bowl below is of cherry. It was turned and carved with an Arbortech and touched up using a Foredom. The color comes from Jean-François’s favorite coloring technique: rubbing with steel wool and white vinegar. The steel and vinegar react with the tannin in the wood to darken the wood. The actual color produced depends on the wood, its moisture content, oxidation of the steel wool, and more.

The righthand photo is of two bowls of maple, colored using the same technique.

A cherry bowl by Jean-François. Two maple bowls by Jean-François.

Jean-François finishes hollowing a new bowl.

Here, Jean-François is completing the interior of a third maple bowl.

Siegfried is experimenting with some inside-out turning. In the photo below, you can see lying on the bed of the lathe some prototypes he made before starting the box elder.

Siegfried turns some box elder.

The turned box elder after being cut and reversed.A Cryptomeria bowl turned by Siegfried.

Above, you see the box elder after Siegfried has cut it on the bandsaw and placed the pieces face to face. Above right is a Cryptomeria bowl that Siegfried turned yesterday and brushed aggressively to highlight the grain.

Sorry for the silence . . .

dear readers, but I haven’t been feeling well since we returned from D.C. I hope to be back on my feet and back on the computer tomorrow, and I’ll try to catch up with more about our D.C. visit and see what the boys are up to in the shop. Stay tuned . . .