Many of you know me as Robin Paige, a writer of mystery novels. Now I would like to tell you about the bowls, vases, and other turned wood pieces that I have been making for more than twenty years.
I harvest the materials for my pieces from the trees that grow on the land around our Central Texas home, which is blessed with a variety of very hard and moderately hard trees that are ideal for turning. These include mesquite, pecan, elm, ash, and sycamore. The trees are large (more than eight inches in diameter), and most have lived a long and full life before they died naturally from old age, drought, or insect attack. Once cut, the green wood is slowly and carefully dried so that the stresses do not exceed the wood’s strength and result in cracking, “checking.” This drying and seasoning process typically takes many months and involves a great deal of special knowledge and judgment, as well as special coatings and storage techniques—and a great deal of manual labor. For me, this is a labor of love, for each of these wood pieces represents a part of the natural world around us, and deserves special care and respect.
My interest in the fine craft of woodturning grew out of my lifelong interest in collection, restoring, and using antique tools, many of which are survivors of a hundred years of hard use. Each tool in my collection has a story to tell—and unraveling each tool’s story has required a great deal of experimentation. It also often involved fabricating parts of the tool—so I learned blacksmithing. This allows me to reproduce tools that are too fragile or precious to use as they were originally intended. Most of the tools that I use are either antiques or handcrafted.
Traditionally, most vessels have been made of pottery or glass, for wood does not lend itself to the utilitarian purposes for which traditional designs were crafted (storing liquids, for instance). However, traditional designs are now so ingrained in our consciousness that it seems natural to transfer them to other materials, such as wood. As a student of archaeology, I became interested in certain appealing traditional designs, such as Classical Greek funerary urns, Anasazi pottery, and seventeenth century rum bottles. I have incorporated elements of these designs into my work. I usually turn my pieces while the wood is still partially green; shrinking, warping and other distortions are an expected part of the seasoning process and must be anticipated in executing the design.