One thing they can’t teach you in undergraduate or graduate art classes is whether you’ll enjoy working and selling in your chosen medium. In my case, I majored in the entire Art Department at Southern Illinois Univ. – Pottery, Weaving, Metalsmithing, Sculpture (including welding), Printmaking, a few Art History courses and even Oil Painting. I did a minor in Education. My mother wanted me to be able ‘earn a living’ if I couldn’t make it as an artist. Both my weaving and metal instructors at SIU were graduates of Cranbrook Academy of Art in Michigan and encouraged me to do graduate work there. Before going, I spent a summer at Penland School of Crafts in North Carolina where I studied Enameling and Lapidary (cutting cabochons and faceted stones) and did more weaving. At Cranbrook I got an MFA in Weaving, with a minor in Metalsmithing.
While living in NYC and getting to ‘the last $10 in the bank,’ I figured I’d better start working with my own two hands. With the addition of a little common sense, all my previous experience of working with tools and materials made it fairly easy to do carpentry, contracting, building, and yes, some teaching for most of my ‘earning’ years. When I first moved to Sandwich in ’78 I set up a shop with a jeweler friend and sold woven items. They sold well enough, but I soon found I really did not like producing items for sale and liked even less doing commissions. At that point I went back to my building skills and worked for a contractor for almost ten years, then became director of the historical society before retiring.
About four or five years ago I found myself driving to Kennett High School in Conway once a month to sit in on the Woodturners meetings. I didn’t have a lathe, but surely did enjoy seeing what others were making on their lathes. After about a year of this and taking a couple of short courses in turning at Kennett, I decided to buy a lathe. That was in the summer of 2004. Several attempts at turning, getting the gouge caught (there’s a reason why they’re called gouges) and scaring the pudding out of myself, I was ready to sell that Delta lathe. It wasn’t until late 2006 that I got some simple instructions from a friend and started my career of woodturning with a half inch scraper. The fellows at the club meetings were impressed when I finally had some pieces to show, even though they made fun of me for using a scraper all the time. I said I didn’t care what tool I used as long as it allowed me to turn wood comfortably. They had to agree. Since then I’ve gained considerable skill with bowl gouges (not skews though) and have upgraded to a larger, heavier lathe (“Puff” the Magic Powermatic Dragon) that allows me to mount a big chunk of wood I’ve chainsawed from my property and start turning it slowly to get it balanced, then make a big bowl, platter or whatever. It’s nice to work in a medium I really appreciate and solve problems from an artistic point of view.
I do wish I had been introduced to the woodturning world much earlier in my life, but I’m here now and I’m happy turning bowls for myself and if someone wants to buy them, that’s great.