Turning with Temple: Woodturning Classes and Demos
by Temple Blackwood
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Four events beginning in 1968 launched my woodturning career: first, my mother-in-law, Virginia Lampson, gave me a small table lathe with its single scraping chisel; second, a copy of Peter Child's book The Craftsman Woodturner (1971) sent me struggling to master the skew chisel; third, a high-end woodworking catalog arrived, offering high-quality tools well beyond the choices in our local hardware store; and fourth, a local lumber
salesman/designer challenged me to turn 106 thin, long, pine stair balustrades for a historic restoration job. Steadily since 1973, I have enjoyed a full calendar of turning multiples, matching architectural and furniture designs in large and small sizes, pursuing my own artistic visions, and teaching others the pleasure of "cutting wood the way it likes
to be cut" to achieve a pleasing shape.
As a 38 year career teacher, administrator, and board member in Maryland private independent schools, I shared woodturning and my enthusiasm for the artistic balance of form, shape, texture, color, and dimension with many middle and high school students and faculty members. Two generous Educational Opportunity Grants from the American Association of Woodturners made this especially successful in my more recent school. Similarly, as a charter member of the Chesapeake Woodturners (founding treasurer and
webmaster) and as one who prefers to turn multiples, spindles, and to use the magic skew chisel above all other tools, I benefitted from being asked to demonstrate and teach other turners.
Now retired from schools to live, teach, and turn full-time in my shop in Maine, I demonstrate traditional woodturning twice weekly in July and August for the public at the local Wilson Museum in Castine as well as supply turned items and tools to contractors, wooden boat and house restorers, and Maine Maritime Academy students where also I teach writing and communications as a part-time adjunct. The blend of my passion for
turning and my enjoyment in teaching has enhanced my commitment to our craft and art. My enthusiasm for woodturning allows me to learn from each student I teach. Having two of my sons seek me out as adults wanting to learn to turn and develop as turning artists brought a wonderful new dimension to our relationship and family. Now they, like many of
my students, surpass me with their talents but continue to ask my guidance, opinion, and occasional demonstration.
I enjoy my volunteer service in the national community of woodturners where I join the impressive community of woodturner leaders who have been my friends over the years both in person and through the many publications of the American Association of Woodturners and its chapters. We regularly show our work in juried gallery shows while sharing with each other new approaches to historically beautiful designs, in both unique artistic sculptured pieces and commercial production and restoration architectural turning. With them, I join in on the pursuit of the perfect tool, the perfect design, and the perfect day in the shop turning wood and revealing the artistically pleasing shapes, form, textures, and colors within.
Beyond the kinesthetic thrill of turning a piece of wood at the lathe myself, the experience of demonstrating and teaching woodturning offer the innate reward of watching someone's face light up with delight and understanding as a rough piece of wood becomes round and smooth and shaped deliberately into a useful or at least recognizable object. Children and adults, both experienced and those brand new to woodturning all watch the process in fascination as the flying shavings, practiced movement of the tools, and skillful decisions of the woodturner artist translate visually and quickly into that object. Many turners recognize the child's focused attention -- and emerging "ownership" -- of a turned spinning top with chattered carvings and custom-colored illumination.
Demonstrations and classes in woodturning occupy about a third of my time and create an opportunity for me to expand my understanding of the many different ways to approach the wood, the tools, design, and body movement. That broader understanding comes from demonstrating a technique by breaking it into smaller parts, then working with a student to copy each step in the execution of that technique, and finally creating an opportunity for the student to explore and practice the technique to make it a more fluid and natural part of the student's own skills. The most challenging example of this presents itself as students learn to master the sensually pleasing smoothing cut of a well-sharpened skew chisel and the equally rewarding final shearing cut of a well-positioned bowl gouge.
Early in my woodturning experience (early-1970's) I attended a local crafts fair run by the local Rotary Club in Centreville, Maryland where I lived. The theme for the show was education, and all of the participants were required to share their crafts through live demonstration in addition to selling items. That led to many enjoyable conversations, new people, and an open sharing of ideas and resources that set the pace for my later participation in other shows -- always with a demonstration/education plan.
Much later, as an active member of the Chesapeake Woodturners, I joined in the many club demonstrations at public events as well as demonstrated various techniques for the members of the club. I particularly enjoyed organizing and demonstrating several times at the Renwick Gallery in D.C. because the diversity of people in the audience offered such a rich variety of backgrounds. Like many turners, I equally enjoy watching and learning from others at regular club, regional, and national gatherings.
When I moved my shop to Castine, Maine in summer 2009, I was invited to join an existing blacksmith to demonstrate woodturning as part of the "Living History" exhibit. I continue to enjoy demonstrating at the Wilson Museum each Wednesday and Sunday of July and August from 2:00 - 5:00PM and find that regular discipline and interaction with both the casual tourist and the regular summer visiting public challenges me to be inventive, interactive, and responsive. Many of the regular audience members become summer and/or year-round students in my shop, where they enrich my summer demonstrations by their growing expertise. Spinning tops, Harry Potter wands, toadstools, and small bats -- the demonstrators "give-away" collection included a new feature of a woodturned ring & string puzzle in support of the Museum's special featured summer exhibit of beautiful, old, wooden jig-saw puzzles.
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