A Brief Tour Of An Amazing Event
My first American Association of Woodturners (AAW) symposium was in Albuquerque, NM (2009). I was blown away by that experience. The depth and breadth of this year’s Symposium, held within blocks of AAW’s headquarters in St. Paul, promised to be yet another unforgettable experience. I was not to be disappointed.
Woodworking is a universal human activity and turning in particular seems to attract an international crowd. AAW members hail from all corners of the globe including; Argentina, Austria, Australia, Belgium, Canada, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Denmark, England, France, Finland, Germany, Iceland, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Luxembourg, New Zealand, Norway, Peru, Scotland, Slovakia, South Africa, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan, the Netherlands, and Uruguay. Many came as exhibitors, demonstrators, collectors and participants. The sound of foreign languages added to the electricity you felt the moment you walked in the symposium doors. The charged atmosphere was heightened by the 25th Anniversary celebration of AAW’s founding which explains this year’s Symposium venue in AAW’s hometown of St.Paul, Minnesota.
The entry fee starts at $250 and came as a shock at first glance. But then I realized the fee gives you a four day, all you can eat smorgasbord of demonstrations, panel discussions, classes, exhibits and galleries plus a full blown Trade Show. The entrance fee began to look like a bargain. The deal gets even better because the ticket cost includes the ticket holder’s family. They can’t see all the demos, but there is a host of free activities, galleries and demos available for family members young and old. For example: there are hands-on turning clinics for kids 10-17. Then there’s the Craft Room for non-turning spouses where craft demonstrations are offered. Topics run the gamut from “Balinese Mask Carving” to a method for turning Tootsie Rolls into a rose. For a little extra money, you can sign up for some interesting local tours such as: “Best of Minneapolis”, “Stillwater – Birthplace of Minnesota” and my favorite “St.Paul’s Notorious Past” where you visit Chicago gangsters’ summer hangouts.
Let’s take a closer look at this year’s show.
I didn’t win.
Demonstrations are the heart of any AAW Symposium. There were 18 demonstration halls where the best of the best from an international body of wood artists taught an array of tricks and techniques. You’d be hard pressed to come up with a woodturning topic that was not covered. All demos are repeated at different times throughout each day so you won’t miss a topic of interest.
The demos are designed for optimized viewing. Manned cameras get right in where the action is and put the picture up on a large screen for all to see. No need to crane your neck or shift in your seat to see what’s going on. For a complete list of demo topics see: www.woodturner.org and download the Planning Guide for the symposium. Look for the “Rotations” schedule.
If you’re not in the mood for a live demonstration than consider one of the ongoing Panel Discussions. Hosted by woodturning luminaries and related professionals, the panels are an open discussion forum with lots of audience participation.
The Youth Turning Sessions run all day long and are one of my favorite stops at the Symposium. Here, youthful joy and enthusiasm mix with the well seasoned volunteer instructors. Dozens of lathes encircle the room. A host of green shirted volunteers assist young turners as they create their own projects such as a Ball and Cup Toy, Textured Medallions, Tops, Pens and yes, bowls.
Three Exhibits were housed in Ballroom “B” of the St.Paul River Center. The first exhibit, “Turning 25″, celebrates AAW’s 25th Anniversary with select pieces from over 40 AAW chapters across America. Some pieces were by individuals picked to represent their chapter; others were collaborative efforts of several chapter members. The only restriction was size; 8″ x 8″ x 8″ maximum.
Here’s a sampling:
African blackwood, Cuban mahogany
African Mahogany, Maple, holly, silver paint
Baltic birch plywood, cocobolo, water-based fiber reactive dyes, lacquer
Gulf Coast Woodturners Association
Grand River Woodturners Guild
Grand Rapids, Michigan
James Johnson and Anna Rachinsky
Box elder burl, cat claw seed pod, Baltic birch, various woods, paint
Hill Country Turners
Amboyna burl, ebony
Woodturners of Southwest Florida
Fort Meyers, Florida
Massachusetts South Shore Woodturners
Holly, permambuco, walnut, East Indian rosewood, osage orange, satine, rosily, Gabon ebony
Orange County Woodturners
Rocky Mountain Woodturners
Fort Collins, Colorado
The Ellsworth Retrospective was the second exhibit. David Ellsworth is perhaps best known for his hollow forms as well as a keen eye for balance and beauty.
The third exhibit entitled Roots-An Artist’s Voice is the fifth in a series created by AAWs Professional Outreach Program (POP). All the pieces were done by pros and auctioned off to help support other POP programs such as the Instant Gallery Awards and Panel Presentations.
Bleached maple from “a tree that greeted me for thirty years”.
Mallee burl, carnauba wax
Jarrah, western myail, brass, buffalo horn, tree resin, industrial diamonds
Yes – this was turned intact from a single block of wood. The bowl has never been outside the box and floats free inside the box.
Maple Park, Illinois
Box elder, maple, acrylic paint, lacquer
Our next stop is the Galleries section of the show. There were no fewer than 7 galleries on one gigantic floor. Are you ready? Let’s go.
The first gallery to catch my eye was dedicated to Virgil Leih. Virigil mounts 400-3000 pound rescued tree trunks on an 8000 pound Oliver lathe and turns them into enormous sculptures. He dries his blanks in a 4′ x 4′ x 8′ microwave he designed. Virgil thinks big.
You can see more at www.virgiltreeart.com
Ebonized Rappahannock River Crib Dam Pine (1854), paint, glass, wrought iron spikes
Po Shun Leong
Various woods planted by George Washington at Mt. Vernon
Tulip poplar from Jefferson’s Monticello
Mt. Vernon Blanket Chest
Mount Vernon Scarlett Oak
How about that – furniture at a turning symposium.
Now we enter the Instant Gallery area. This is an open show where anyone can bring their work for display and even receive constructive criticism of their work from the experts. Participants can also enter their pieces in the Education Opportunity Grant (EOG) silent auction. Proceeds are used by AAW to fund grants to wood artists everywhere. First we’ll look at some of these silent auction pieces, then we’ll move on to the Chapter Cooperative Challenge where chapters from around the world pool their efforts to put on display. We’ll also check out the Collectors of Wood Art (CWA) where art collectors can sell or display some of their favorite pieces. We’ll end the tour with a look at some of the great stuff pros and amateurs alike brought to the Instant Gallery.
These are just a few of the pieces set out for bids.
Formed on a rose engine lathe from a single block of reclaimed wood. You can see what a rose engine lathe looks like in my companion story on the Symposium’s Trade Show.)
More from the Instant Gallery:
Baltic birch plywood
Maple with bent wood ties
Nice to see some good ol’ basic bowls that are meant to be used.
Japanese pagoda tree
Vase with antique porcelain lid, stained, pyro, paint
Great use for a broken tea pot!
Ebony and maple
Hope you enjoyed the show!
Next year’s symposium is in San Jose, California. Go to www.woodturner.org for more information.
Photos by Author (unless otherwise noted)