Much of what is manufactured today has a very short
interest span and only adds to our growing landfill problem.
So when skill and art combine
to create an heirloom-worthy piece
which is also a recycle....my heart and soul swoon.
When I can't be in the woods I like to have the woods around me, indoors. This gorgeous hickory bowl was made by a friend of mine, Hershel Miller, (Millington, TN) from wood he salvaged from my Uncle's property. My Uncle, a noteworthy wood turner in his own right, treated me to a class taught by Miller at the John C. Campbell Folk School several years ago. I have nothing to show for all my work other than a true appreciation for their talents and a love of the art form.
Hickory Bowl by Hershel Miller
When Hershel was alerted that an old hickory tree on my Uncle's property was dying he loaded up the chainsaws, a camera, some tools and his very supportive wife to take off and harvest some wood. They were kind enough to document the process for me to share.
Miller knows how to fell a tree starting with a wedge cut and then clearing out of the way
He goes to work cutting pieces he can transport and use. Hickory, despite being a very hard wood will rot quickly once it is on the ground and unprotected. It will be consumed by insects
and weather rendering it unusable after time.
Please note: no healthy trees were sacrificed in this project!
Shown here is the half slice of the piece cut in the photo above with the chainsaw, split lengthwise. If you look closely you will see a pencil outline of the round bowl he plans to make.
Using a bandsaw he cuts a bowl blank which will go on the lathe.
Both photos above show Miller shaping the outside of the bowl.
After the exterior shape and foot are done he removes it from the lathe and
prepares to do the inside. So that he doesn't power through the bottom and ruin the bowl (easy to do with the high speed of the lathe) he drills a depth hole in the center.
A steady hand, consistent pressure and a 6th sense guide the hollowing out of the inside of the bowl.
Miller is recognized for his glassy smooth surfaces which are indicative of expert cutting
and a huge amount of tedious sanding.
Here is the 12 inch "blank", shaped and now ready to be wrapped in paper and dried for six months. After all the moisture is gone it will go back on the lathe and be subjected to more
turning (it may likely warp in the drying process) and then be sanded to a smooth
surface ready for staining and/or oiling.
The bounty: Miller's bowls on the left will be wrapped, dried for six months and be turned again. The three on the right have been turned much thinner so will dry in two-three months...these he will allow to warp and will not return to the lathe. All of these are from the same portion of a dying tree but each uniquely fashioned as one of a kind pieces.
I so enjoy the smell of a wood shop altho I have been cautioned about the dangers of inhaling fine saw dust all day long. As in any artistic pursuit, it is not all romantic progress forward. There is the wood that splits, the dangers of the equipment, the difficulties of the skill set and the disappointment of projects not going as planned. But watching folks who choose to see these as challenges to overcome, not obstacles for quitting, always inspires me. When someone asks Miller how long a bowl takes him I have no doubt he answers "20 years and 6 months," because that is the truth of the answer.
So I surround myself with hand turned bowls, vases, platters and other objects not only because I enjoy the art they represent but because I know that a tree lives on...a moment in history, its life, the weather and time, is forever captured and preserved for future enjoyment. Recycling in its highest and finest form.
Hats off to Hershel Miller, my Uncle and the wood turners they represent. Thanks.
p.s. if you wish to contact Miller for more information about his work just send me a note and I will forward it along. At present he does not have a web site although he does do several shows in the TN area and beyond.