Fifty years ago, when I laminated walnut and poplar boards together and turned a simple bowl in ninth grade shop class for my mother, I had no idea that I would actually become a professional wood turner much later in my life. Within a few years of that ninth grade shop class experience, however, I did suspect that I would have a lifelong connection with wood.
As a teenager, I spent several summers working for my uncle, a house builder in North Carolina. Mostly, I picked up trash and nailed blocking in place, but I was thoroughly bitten by the "sawdust bug"--and when I finished four years of unrelated college, I went into construction fulltime and have been a builder working with and appreciating wood ever since.
A few years ago, I began thinking about what I could do for work and satisfaction after a lifetime of construction. Then, one day a friend of mine said;"I would really like to turn wooden bowls." The light bulb clicked on and I knew that I was going to be a builder and turner of wooden bowls.
Most of my work is a style called segmented turning and it involves the fitting and gluing together of many individual pieces of wood into a rough shape of the final vessel or art piece. Once the rough form is complete, it is mounted on the lathe, turned into its final design and finish is applied. This style of presentation is very labor intensive and I spend more time cutting and gluing than I spend turning--but that's okay. At first, I wasn't sure that I liked the bowl-building process, because it is so labor intensive, but finally I came to the realization that I have spent my entire life building things. When I was a kid with H.O. trains, I constructed all of the buildings on my train table using balsa stock rather than buying ready-made structures. And then I spent 35 years building houses--and so it seemed natural that I would choose to build wooden vessels rather than just turning a bowl from a single chunk of wood. A further advantage that appeals to my desire to create "functional art" is that by working with the segmented turning process, I am able to combine the multitude of natural wood colors and grains into patterns and shapes that are highly reminiscent of the pottery of the American southwest, Africa, or of the Orient.
I only began learning my new trade in 1997 and in many ways consider myself to be a novice. The nice thing about being a novice is that there is so much to learn--how can I ever become bored with this art form? I have only begun to scratch the surface of the ideas that are constantly drifting through my mind.