Our first real work day

The first product of collaboration.I slept in a little for a change, and when I got to the shop at around 10, the first collaboration was finished, a vessel made by Sean and textured by Sean and Jean-François, of Tennessee aromatic cedar, a thank-you gift for Gus.

Soon after I arrived, though, everyone else headed out. Sean and Jean-François went off with Gus again, because they didn’t get enough wood yesterday (!), and Siegfried had business in town. So I, the ostensible photojournalist, got to spend most of the day happily turning by myself. After Sean and Jean-François came back and unloaded, they went off again. All remained quiet then until about 4, when everyone came back and got to work.

Jean-François turns an egg cup. Jean-François turned an egg cup from some scrap wood. So far pretty much everything he’s made has been about food. It is important, though, that he not burn his fingers when he is eating his eggs.

Sean started a vessel from a large maple burl.

Sean works on a maple burl vessel.

Siegfried turns a yew bowl.Siegfried worked on a yew bowl that he started yesterday, I think. Turning green wood is a different experience for him.

I finished the interior of the walnut bowl I started Tuesday. It’s a Siegfried bowl, applying some of his concepts. Turning it was quite erotic. I turned the interior until the curve and depth felt right to my fingers, closing my eyes again and again to check the curve, using my eyes only to get a clean finish. I will finish the round bottom another time. Then I turned a round-bottom bowl of pear. I left the interior unsanded, with tool marks, and textured the unsanded exterior with a wire brush. I’ll try for a photo tomorrow. I’m interested to see how the wet wood dries.

Our focus

At our orientation, we each selected one of our pieces to represent our focus for the ITE. I was then given the task of photographing the aspect of the piece that best represents that focus, for publication in the announcement of the final exhibition. Here are those photos (left to right: Siegfried’s, Sean’s, Jean-François’s, and mine):

Siegfried's piece (and hand).Sean's piece.Jean-François's piece.My piece.

By the way, to get decent photos of Sean’s and Jean-François’s pieces, I had to improvise: I set up the pieces in the (white) cupboard under the kitchen sink in my dorm room, put in a lamp, and bounced light off of a paper towel. How’s that for professional photography?

Notes from the Far Side

Even at the shop, I'm on my laptop. Of course, we didn't have wood yet. Monsieur Delorme took this photo.Tonight, I’m tired but not mortally exhausted. I take that as a good sign that I’m settling in.

Today was much lower key. We rendevoused at the shop this morning. By the time the rest of us arrived at 9, Sean had already begun turning a burl block left behind by the last ITErs. (He is a very early riser.) We mostly futzed about the shop, tweaking our setups and getting more familiar with the equipment and tools we have, both from the WTC and at the UArts shop. We even all took breaks for lunch.

Siegfried completed the first turning—turnings—of this ITE. He made miniature tops of boxwood to wish us all good turning. Here we are playing with the tops on the shop floor. Jean-François took the top picture.

Jean-François took this picture of all of us playing with Siegfried's tops.

Jane and Siegfried spinning tops.

I’m thinking of giving my job to Jean-François, because he’s much quicker to reach for the camera than I am. I get so involved with what we’re doing that I forget I’m supposed to be documenting it.

Jean-François gets ready to photograph Sean and the rest of us playing with the tops.

Tops are tops!

Jean-François made me a top too, because I gave him a penny. Here are my tops from Jean-François and Siegfried.

My tops from Jean-François and Siegfried.

Sean thinks “Jean-François” is too hard to say, so he’s calling Jean-François “Fred” instead. I believe he told Jean-François to call him “Poop Head” in return. Jean-François has “Poop Head” written on a board on his work bench to remind him what to say.

Jean-François turning his plate.In addition to the tops, I have started a bowl of walnut. Jean-François has turned a plate of cherry so that he doesn’t have to eat off of the plastic Coca-Cola plates we inherited from the last ITErs.

Welcome to the wonderful world of the ITE!

“ConneXtions”

“ConneXtions: A Collaboration of Glass and Wood” is an exhibition jointly sponsored by the American Association of Woodturners (AAW) and the International Society of Glass Beadmakers (ISGB). More than 100 woodturners and glass beadmakers are collaborating on pieces, and their creations will be exhibited June 26–December 15 at the AAW Gallery in St. Paul, MN.

Last fall, I met a glass beadmaker, Terry Bendt, a fellow Japanese-American, at the Tucson Museum of Art show. We liked each other’s work and liked each other, and when I next saw her, she told me about “ConneXtions.” Terry and I started brainstorming and decided to do two pieces inspired by the American internment of Japanese immigrants and Japanese-American citizens in camps in the United States during World War II. One piece is focused on the so-called relocation center at Manzanar, California; the other, on the Gila River camp in Arizona.

It’s been an exciting process—for both of us, if I may speak a little for Terry. We have both challenged ourselves technically to do work beyond what either of us has done in the past. Collaboration is new to me, and I’m loving the energy and the exchange. But the best part for me has been getting to know Terry and feeling like a midwife to Terry’s process. You see, Terry’s family was in Manzanar, the best known of the camps. And it’s not a part of her family history that she knew very much about. In making these pieces she has been learning about her own heritage. And it has been my privilege to be a witness and a facilitator to that process.

I’m also delighted with how our pieces are coming out. The heart of the Manzanar piece is a turned hollow vessel of applewood (“Manzanar” is Spanish for “apple grove,” and the site of the camp was an abandoned orchard-farming town). Only the inside of the vessel is turned; the outside remains the raw, chainsawn block I began with. The block is wider than it is thick, so when I hollowed the inside, the turning pierced the front and back walls, leaving “windows” into the vessel. I offset the center slightly so that the front window is slightly larger than the back; thus, when you look through the front window, you see the frame of the rear.

After the closure of the camps, landowners near the site of the cemetery at the Heart Mountain camp in Wyoming uncovered a 55-gallon drum full of small stones painted with kanji characters. We’ve borrowed from that fact for both our pieces. Terry has made beads that look like stones, and I have painted some of them with characters such as those for “perseverance” and “family” and “dream.” Both the painted beads and plain faux stone beads will lie inside the bottom of the vessel with some scattered cherry blossom murrini beads. More cherry blossom beads and glass shard beads with family photos will adorn five strands of barbed wire that will wrap the outside of the vessel.

The Gila River piece will consist of a black serving tray partially covered with dirt from the Gila River camp site. Fallen over on the tray will be a teacup, a broken and mended rice bowl, and a pair of chopsticks, all turned from mesquite, a wood native to the Gila River area. Stone beads, both plain and painted, will spill from the cup and bowl. A strand of barbed wire will lie in the dirt, punctuated with handful of cherry blossom beads.

My grandmother once showed me a treasured tea bowl that had broken and had been professionally mended. No attempt had been made to conceal the brokenness; rather, the breaks were emphasized by conspicuous seams of adhesive that had been mixed with gold. Instead of diminishing the object’s value, the repair thus underscored it. This is the idea behind the broken, mended rice bowl.

In my original conception of the piece, barbed wire was to encircled the tray, attached to posts at the corners. One fact kept coming back to me, however: At the understaffed Gila River Relocation Center, the single watch tower was torn down soon after the camp was in operation, and the barbed-wire perimeter fence was taken down after six months. What model prisoners must the camp have held.

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.