This past weekend, Ross and I took a class at Boston’s North Bennet Street School that introduced us to the basics of wood turning. It was a two day class with instruction and guidance around wood, turning, timber, tool sharpening, etc. with about 12 hours with us on the lathe. The lathe was a bit intimidating at first, it’s large, loud and your approaching it with sharp instruments that could easily smash your face. Through out the weekend though I got more comfortable and intrigued by what’s possible with turning from a translucency perspective. I got to Googling and came across the works of Ron Kent, who is famous for pushing the limits of wood thickness. He has a super informative and beautiful website, which I encourage you to peruse.
He does smaller scale pieces like bowls and other vessels and massive pieces that look pre-assembled and then turned since they’re not coming from a single “blank” or unturned piece of wood. Ron is entirely self-taught, which is insane. He has a multitude of proprietary techniques, which he details on his site. His bowls are turned over a period of time, with oiling and sanding coming into play it sounds like before the work is removed from the chuck. Oil replaces water and the piece becomes translucent.
In scrolling through his gallery I came across several pieces such as the above which were mended. Mending certainly isn’t something you consider in wood working unless you’re using putty. I loved the story that Ron tells of this particular technique, “One of my finest thin wood vessels had developed cracks due to rough handling, and the remedy was suggested by Hawaii fibre artist Pat Hickman. ‘Enhance the crack,’ Pat said. ‘Give it more character.'” By drilling holes and weaving in hog casing the crack was turned into a part of the piece.
Much of Ron’s work appears to be in Norfolk Island Pine, indigenous to the South Pacific – Ron works in Hawaii. The coloration and growth patterns as well as, apparently the porosity of the wood, make it perfect for the types of pieces and aesthetic he is aiming for – especially in regards to translucency.
Above you can see one of his pieces that led me to him. How amazing is that? And now I can appreciate the tons and tons of hours of work that went into it all the more!