Interview by Zoe Allison, recorded by Nathalie Worthington
Z -What brought you here initially?
J – I had retired from a job I had in New Jersey and so I got this other job working for a bio tech company. I had been wood turning in New Jersey for 20 years in my spare time. There wasn’t anything organized in New Jersey. I really got going when I moved here. Piedmont Triad Woodworkers Assn. a colleague and fellow guild member, Michael Thompson has been a major influence in getting going with my wood turning.
Z – What were you doing with your wood turnings before you joined the build.
J – I was selling at farmers’ markets in Pittsboro, both at the Chatham Market Place and their Thursday market in the town Pittsboro. I was also selling at Fearrington’s Tuesday market and that’s how I met Trish Welsh. She suggested I try to get into the Chatham Artists Guild. My first time i didn’t jury in but then I met Michael Thompson who I mentioned; our famous guild member and wood turner extraordinaire. I’ve known Michael about 8 years and so Trish and Michael encouraged me to try again. I had meanwhile improved and had professional photos taken. They also helped me about having a breadth of spectrum of objects, and I got in.
Z – So, this being your fourth year, are you showing or selling in other places?
J – I’ve been in Elements Gallery in Greensboro, for four or five years. I just joined Cacoon (just started in April) in Apex. By the way, she’s an advertiser in our brochure.
Z – What sets your pieces apart from other people?
J – I do a lot of lamination work. I’m making some cool laminated rolling pins; laminated. I use a lot of veneers too, and Padauk (orange wood from South America) is my favorite to give the piece color and interest.
Z – What processes would you like to share?
J – I start out with a green bowl, roughly turned and they’ll be an inch thick. I bag it and label it and add wet shavings to the bag and leave it there for 6 mo. When I take it out, I know this is sweet hackberry. I’ll date it again when it comes out of bag, and I’ll do the finish turning.
Something more I do that sets my work apart, when there’s a defect, I fill it with turquoise powder epoxy and let it set over night. When we have a finished bowl, that turquoise is smoothed in. If I’m working on an older bowl, sometimes four years or more, I’ll know it’s not going crack. Trish got me into the wood burning on the bottom. I sign with a picture of trees made in wood burning. These are all original hand made touches that people appreciate.
Z – When you turn the piece, how much time is spent on finishing, sanding
J – I can turn in about an hour for the final turning on a dry bowl. Then I spend another hour to sand. The finishing is four coats of salad oil, with two hours between coats. You sand and steel wool between those coats.
Z – What shapes do you like to make?
J – My shapes got better talking with Michael. He took piece of string and showed me how to visualize a good shape. When I didn’t get in first time, Michael came over to help me decide some things. He’s been an amazing colleague and friend in my wood turning.
Z – I see some differences with Michael’s work… and akin to Trish’s pottery, you like a foot on your pieces?
J – Yes, the foot gives a nice transition to the bottom. The tenon is what I make into the foot.
Sometimes the tenon is removed and the whole thing will be curved. But if you go in too far this way, you go through it and turned it into a pedestal bowl.
I do a completely original design for lidded bowls. The lid goes on like a tongue and groove and then I turn a small phineal type handle for the lid. Another favorite wood is bubinga from South America, or Africa or Asia.
Z – What inspires you?
J – I’d say the wood itself inspires me. I was running a saw mill and most of the guys who are saw mill guys aren’t wood workers. As a wood worker I can get the best character out of the wood. If you know how to wood work you can cut it up better. (Jeff showed us an amazing geometric patterned multi-colored wood floor he made for his upstairs work room. Truly impressive!)
Z – What inspiration would you like your end users to enjoy about your work?
J – The usefulness of the items that are also nice to look at gives me satisfaction.
Z – Any considerations when you’re pricing your work?
J – My son is also in the guild, and so I told him now the business needs to be self- supporting. You try to make things people will buy. There are all kinds of driving forces, but cost is a big one. For me, cost is important because of the raw material cost. I get $0 for my time so the costs are the wood, equipment, glue, finish, I make pizza cutters, wine bottle stoppers, and it’s the part you add to those items that have a cost.
I tend to make things that are useful and beauty is important to me so I work hard to make them not only utilitarian but beautiful. I can make a tiny phineal that wouldn’t support the bowl. Other turners make a tiny pineal and paper thin bowl. I don’t see the point in doing that because the result isn’t strong enough.
Z – What sets your work apart from other wood workers in the guild?
J – The beauty of the woods we work with and putting different woods together sets us apart. The blocks have contrasting colors. We make a lot of bowls out of single pieces of wood. We want to see something extra with a defect or spalting. When the wood starts to degrade, fungi gets into the grain and starts breaking down the wood. Mycologist told me there’s one colony outlined by a group, then they release the black pigment to define their territory. The more spalting the better… they could be different fungi or the same.
If I need to do a ton of sanding I get a chuckle remembering sand paper is not another chisel, I use up to 600 grit and steel wool, down to 4 ought – we really work on the smoothness of our work. Scratches or texture that’s not smooth would never go out of here.
Z – Was there a craft guild when you lived in NY?
J – No. I wasn’t selling. I was making and giving it away to friends and family. Before that I sold a bit down in Tennessee 35 years ago. I got into it in a big way 12 years ago when we first moved down.
Z – What direction is the guild going?
J – I’m on the board and the treasurer. We have an excellent group/ board, but I’m concerned because we really don’t have enough people. There are some people who volunteer for us who aren’t actually in the guild and they’re very helpful. In my four years we’ve lost some of our greatest talent. This past year we had 13 new members which is really good. It’s encouraging we had that many people apply to get the numbers back up. Location is a factor also… I’m the only one on this road. It’s not good when you’re remote from other artists.
Z – How are your sales?
J – Sales are down from other years. Attendance is down a bit too. I don’t do social media and I don’t pay attention to it. I just don’t know how much that’s helping. I’m getting the regular visitors who see the brochure or know because of their locality. I expressed my concern on the board. The social media is our second biggest cost next to the brochure. I’d like to have 20 people say they heard about me from facebook. That’s just not happened.
Z – Are you interested in collaborations with other artists?
J – I’ve thought about it. The issue is time. My son makes shaving kits and with that you have a bowl to mix up the lather. We bought beautiful small bowls from Trish and we sell the kit. We buy the boar hair bristle brush and make the handle. My son makes the wooden handle. We have a tripod stand with two hooks on the side one for brush and one for razor. My son’s done really well with that.
Z – Do you use any online sales venues?
J – My son takes care of face book, etsy and the web site. EBay wasn’t so good. Our web site is jncwoodworks.com
Z – What excites you most about what you’re currently crating.
J – Mainly the multi color things. The color is cool the way it comes out.
Z – Does the market influence what you make or are you purely driven by your creativity?
J – I make things of interest to me. I keep in mind the market and what people are going to buy. I’ve been through a lot of different craft shows, and I changed our product over time. This will be our 3rd year selling at the Christmas Carosel. We do ok there. It’s surprising what people will want to purchase. The brochures get distributed, so I’ve talked up the Studio Tour quite a bit. At a market like that you have to be positioned well with your booth. One year we hardly had any sales because we weren’t easily noticed. Now we’re the first booth you see when you walk in and that helps a lot.
J – The St. Thomas Moore show is first Sat. of our studio tour. We do really well there. The money goes to supporting that school so people are more inclined to spend some money.
Z – Is merchandising important to you?
J – Our display is always getting better. It’s really important to have good light and present it in a tasteful way.I wasn’t very organized in the beginning with my display and I showed with Trish so she taught me how to present better. My table is 3’ wide and 6’ long… I’ll put shelves up covered with black cloth. The label tells what it is, type of wood and price We have three shows right in a row coming up.
Z – Are there any shows or connections you’ve made with the community through your art?
J – I gave a demo for the Senior Center in Pittsboro. One day a month for two hours through December 8th, three of us wood turners, Alan, Michael Thompson, and i will do a demo of making Christmas ornaments.
Z – Where else in the area can people find your creations?
J – We’ll be in Greensboro at the PTWA. Kids attend and there are a lot of ex-military guys. We’ll make pens out of purple heart for the veterans; we’re making them pens out of the purple heart wood.
Z – Do you collaborate with other artists in the guild?
J – Michael is a mentor for sure, and no-one in the whole group has an ego. There are130 members, 9 mentors… an 85 year old taught us how to do the turquoise inlay. All of these guys will teach you anything. We go to each other’s shops. At our meetings we bring our work in and have a show and tell. There’s a news letter and pictures of our stuff for the meeting. I’ve learned a lot from all the guys in the group. Frank Penta sells his platters for $1500, and he was a guest turner. He taught us about the lamination.
Z – What prices are on your creations?
J – Our pricing is a good range from $10 to $250. The bowls are charged $10/ inch in diameter regardless of height. If i has something special like the turquoise inlay, that’s plus $10. We want to keep it standard.