Whether it’s to produce smiles on kids’ faces, reveal the beauty within a nondescript block, or push their medium to its limits, these three artists are hooked on making unique creations out of wood.
The NEWS sat down to speak with Parksville artists Phil Lewry, Joe Booth and Ron Gellately about their work (now on display at The Gallery at Qualicum art Supply) and love for woodworking.
For Gellately, the fear of having one of his explode into bits is part of what keeps him interested.
“There have been some exciting times,” he said.
Gellately’s interest in working in wood began at about eight years old when he joined Scouts and his dad gave him a pocket knife.
“We used to carve little boats at Harrison Lake and set them sailing,” he said.
He’s carved and built furniture over the years, but his career took him in a different direction until recently when he went back to school in 2010 to get his joiner’s ticket at North Island College.
“I bought a lathe in the same year,” he said.
While Gellately feels he’s made some furniture over the years that could be considered art, it’s working on a lathe that really gets him into the artistry of it, he said.
It allows for Gellately and others like him to create unique and impressive shapes out of wood “that aren’t necessarily associated with would,” he explained.
While people are likely familiar with turned bowls and vases made of wood, the process of making them, and the final product is often much more exciting than those otherwise everyday objects.
“You put a piece of wood on a machine, spin it at 3,000 rpm and poke at it with sharp metal,” he said.
“Some of it is terrifying.”
“I had a bowl blow up on me last month. I’ve lost half of it. I think it may be in the rafters. But I only have half of it left, and I can’t locate the other parts,” said Gellately.
But that’s where he likes to put: right at the edge of the envelope, where he can push wood to its limits.
One way of doing that is by making extremely thin-walled bowls — so much so that people start doubting that they’re really made of wood.
“That little piece behind you, the blue and green one is, people have accused me of casting that in plastic, but it’s maybe 3/32nds on the wall of the bowl,” said Gellately, pointing to one of his pieces on display at The Gallery at Qualicum Art Supply.
Inspired by artists like Binh Pho, Gellately said that what keeps him working in wood is how varied the medium is in terms of different woods, and his focus on pushing the medium as far as he can.
For Lewry, woodworking is about whimsy and fun and bringing a smile to people’s faces.
Currently, he’s making and displaying fairy houses, which he began making for his granddaughter and wife’s fairy garden.
“I enjoy making these type of things,” said Lewry. “They are colourful and they bring a smile to people’s faces when they look at them. (And it’s) fun to do that sort of stuff.”
While Lewry does woodturning work as well, a good portion of his wood work has been in toys.
“I’ve made toys for my children who are all grown up and moved away. I’ve made toys for my grandchildren… trains, car carriers, fire trucks, race cars,” he said.
At one point, Lewry was making so many toys that they ended up at the Regina airport gift shop.
Woodworking has remained a fun pastime for Lewry, and a way to spend his days now that he’s retired.
He enjoys moving from one project to the next, and find that, even as plastic toys and technology have replaced many kids’ interest, there are still many places where a wooden rocking horse or toy train are appreciated.
“My daughter is a teacher in Richmond, and at the school one of her other teachers had been saying that it was really hard to get toys for the children to play with that weren’t plastic or made in China… and my daughter said, ‘Well my dad will make some for you.’
“I made a little garage where they can run their little Hot Wheels up the top or put them in the bottom.
“That was very satisfying to do that sort of stuff. I enjoy doing things for people.”
Booth has had the tools to build things out of wood from a very young age, with his father buying him a bandsaw, table saw and other equipment at age 15.
The tools travelled with him, he said, and he made things for his kids, but once he retired “that’s when things started going overtime. I bought a lathe, I bought bandsaws, I bought sanders, I bought anything to do with wood, because that’s where my interest was. And so I started making stuff.”
He built himself a shop, and soon began filling it with vases and bowls, some of which he’s only now finishing as his knowledge grew and he learned how to dry and put a finish on his work.
He said it’s the possibilities that wood presents that keeps him making things so voraciously.
“I’ll find a tree and it seemed like every time I looked around there was another tree down, so I’d take anything and spin it out and I’d put it into bowls,” he said.
“What catches me with it is the beauty of the wood. I put it on the lathe — you don’t know what’s behind that bark. So you put it on the lathe and it just comes out to a beautiful thing. No end of beauty to it. I mean some of them are mundane, and you learn which woods will blossom for you and come out and talk to you.”
But it’s not enough to keep making the same things all the time, said Booth. “A bowl is a bowl is a bowl,” he said, but it’s what you can do to elevate it that can make it art.
To that end, Booth’s interests have grown into carving as well, and even inlaying rock into his work to add something new and different.
For the rock inlays, Booth crushes stone into sand, and then works it down further to something even finer until he can set it into a nearly finished bowl and sand it down to match the shape.
Booth said he could live in his workshop, if not for needing to eat.
“My wife, she pulls me out of there. ‘It’s dinner time, you better eat something dear.’”
Gellately, Lewry and Booth’s work can be seen at The Gallery at Qualicum Art Supply (206 First Ave. West, Qualicum Beach).