Hand turned bowl by Stephen Bowen

I met Stephen two years ago after he had moved to West Michigan from Georgia. He was a Provost for Emery College. Stephen is a quiet man who spent years learning his wood turning skills at night. He tells stories of trees falling down on campus and asking the college’s maintenance crew delivering the fallen trees to his home studio. One of the things I enjoy when talking with Steve, is his knowledge about wood, the craft of wood turning, and the history behind the craft.

Bob Walma generously created a video sharing our November First Friday Artist Talk. If you click on the image below you can watch the video and learn more about this art form.

When thinking about the planned conversation, I ask the same Ten Questions of our Artists. I hope you find Stephen’s answers interesting and watch our video also.

What turns you on creatively?
Inspiration drawn from possibilities inherent in the wood and the tools and the possibility of creating a form that is genuinely pleasing.
Spiritually or Emotionally?
Nature, family and friends, art including poetry.  I find opera emotionally evocative.
Do you have an influence or theme that guides your work? 
When I began woodworking in my youth, my goal was to produce objects that were useful, that hopefully looked nice, and that were technically competent.  I often tried to emulate the design strategies and technical methods of the Arts and Crafts movement. Those are more difficult and time consuming, but they take into consideration the natural movement of wood with changes in humidity and use joinery techniques that are inherently strong.  In the last decade I have tried to make the transition from craftsman to artist which means, to me, that a piece is not a success unless it evokes something in the viewer.  Most often I strive to leverage the beauty of a piece of wood into a beautiful form.  Occasionally I will create something that evokes curiosity or puzzlement, or maybe a compelling sense of imbalance.  But I still strive to make objects that also have utility even if discovering that utility requires some imagination.
What profession other than your own would you like to attempt? 
If I were reincarnated, I might like to be a surgeon and/or a musician (violin, piano, guitar) – a profession that cultivates and demands both deep knowledge and a high level of manual skill.
What profession would you not like to do? Soldier
Who are your favorite artists? Graphic artists?
I get something from most of them.  When I visit the Art Institute or the National Gallery, I make an effort to spend some time with an artist I have not spent time with before.  If I had to choose one, maybe Cézanne.
What is your favorite tool used to create your work? 
Probably my bowl gouge.  I certainly spend a lot of time with it.
What is your favorite word?  Yes.
What is your least favorite word?  Can’t.
Who is your favorite musician? 
It’s a three-way toss up among Ry Cooder, Nora Jones, and Brahms.  Lately I’ve been listening to work by Vaughn Williams which I really like.
How much formal education have you received? 
Ph.D. in Biology.  Related to your craft.  I have no formal education related to my craft, but I have read books, watched many videos, and talked with other wood turners to learn about a wide range of techniques for choosing and preparing wood and selecting from and using the hundreds of different woodturning chisels that are available.
Inspiration drawn from possibilities inherent in the wood and the tools and the possibility of creating a form that is genuinely pleasing.

Stephen Bowen at Work

Listen to Stephen Bowen and C2C Gallery discussing the craft of wood turning by clicking on this link or the image above.

Take care, C2

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