August 26, 2008

Balsams Grand Hotel Demonstration Week

The Balsams is an amazing Grand Resort Hotel, in northern NH. Far far far Northern NH, seems like it is almost off the edge of the map of the USA, and in some ways if feels like it is off the edge of the 21st Century! The scenery is fantastic, the food is heavenly, and they have an unusual craft and art demonstration program that is both supportive of artistans and entertaining and informative to the guests. Each week during the summer, a different person sets up their equipment and a display of completed works, and the visitors spend time viewing and learning, and often getting involved in a hands-on basis.

2008 is my thirteenth straight year being involved with the Balsams. It is a huge physical effort to get all my stuff up there. I have even built a special water-filled lathe for making small lampshades on-site. But once I am set up, I love the whole experience, which is so different than a craft show. The interactions with the guests are leisurely, and the beauty of the location is simply breathtaking. My demonstration area is outside under an awning I build, and when I gaze out over my lathe, I am looking upon spectacular gardens, a lovely lake, and right up into the rugged cliffs of Dixville Notch. I am prone to exclaim to the guests that for one week each year, I have the most beautiful "office" in the world.

Last week I worked on lampshades and bottle stoppers outdoors, and also helped a lot of people have their first experience holding a turning gouge and making shavings. Many of them are young, sometimes less than 10 years old. And then some are guys who have not turned since high school, and that may have been 60 years ago. There is joy and amazement as they hold the gouge and discover how it works, how to control the cuts, how to reveal the beauty of the wood. I keep it safe by holding my hands on the gouge from the side, but after the first few cuts, my instant students are already doing most of the control and application of effort.

Being at the Balsams is a working vacation for me. I get lots of useful work accomplished, I sell my work and make great connections with prospective clients, and Kathy and I are guests in the hotel ourselves, which means we get to eat the award-winning meals and use the amazing facilities. I hope you someday get to enjoy the Balsams yourself as a guest. Think ahead to July of next summer.... I don't yet know what week I will have next year but it will probably be in early July.

Check out their web site to get more information:

July 28, 2008

Camphor Burl Lamp Bases!

I am again recognizing how infrequently I post here, my apologies. But I do have something "hot" to talk about, a material for making lamp bases that is simply amazing. Camphor is a species of wood that grows in the entire Pacific Basin. I see specific references to Borneo and Taiwan, but apparently it is more widespread. It has become an invasive species along river banks in Northeast Australia, and major efforts are going on there to eradicate or control its spread. As I understand it, is is basically a weed tree, but it does have one commercial product that is extracted from the wood: Camphor Oil. Here are a couple of interesting tidbits that I picked up from Googling:
"Steaming the tree’s bark or wood creates a white, crystalline, and odorous substance, a substance that was once believed to hold magical properties, but now has scientifically proven medicinal qualities."
"The therapeutic properties of camphor oil are analgesic, antidepressant, anti-inflammatory, antiseptic, cardiac, carminative, diuretic, febrifuge, hypertensive, insecticide, laxative, rubefacient, stimulant, sudorific, vermifuge and vulnerary. Camphor oil can be used in the treatment of nervous depression, acne, inflammation, arthritis, muscular aches and pains, sprains, rheumatism, bronchitis, coughs, colds, fever, flu and infectious diseases."

Most of the Camphor oil produced now is synthetic, not from Camphor trees.

Anyway, there is a company in Oregon that imports blocks of burlwood from Camphor trees, and they are gorgeous. Early last fall I bought one and made a lamp base, and it sold instantly at the first show where I exhibited the piece. The same thing happened with the next two Camphor Burl pieces I worked with. So now I am convinced that it not only me that sees Camphor Burl as being an excellent material for making lamp bases. The combination of this wood with my shades is really stunning. The warm light of the translucent wood lends a dramatic extra oomph to the amazing colors and swirling patterns in the burlwood.

The wood is amazing to work with, it is heavy but very workable, cutting smoothly. It is mostly very solid and stable, not honeycombed with cracks or bark inclusions. Each piece is quite unique, some swirl patterns are tight and small, others are large and evenly spread over the entire piece. But from a wood turners point of view, perhaps the most remarkable thing about working with Camphor is the smell of the wood. As soon as I make the first cut, my shop is full of the most amazing odor, it would remind you a bit of Vic's VapoRub, but much much more pleasant. For so many years, I have had an annual winter cold, but not this year. Does that have to do with my breathing in the medicinal qualities of the Camphor? Who knows.... but I like the smell. When clients buy a lamp made of Camphor, I am providing them with a baggy of the shavings, a small memento of the process of crafting that base.

I have gone a bit crazy for Camphor Wood. In addition to the three I have already sold, I have now completed 8 more Camphor Burl lamp bases for the upcoming League of NH Craftsmen craft fair at Sunapee next week. And I just ordered 4 more chunks of the wood. The raw material is quite expensive, so of course there is a premium to be paid for these bases, but they are so remarkable. I feel sure I am on the right track, and that my commitment to this new direction will be something that you will all enjoy.

February 5, 2008

Wrist issue that I deal with...

In my post a couple of days ago, I referred to my wrist problems. And that I worry that over the years this blog could start to sound more like a medical history than an artist's journal. So I will try to keep this brief, if you want to know more, you can ask me and I will pass along a longer email (it even includes x-rays) that I sent to some friends recently.

Four or five years ago, my right wrist started to hurt, and there were some particular processes in my work that seemed to exacerbate things – specifically sanding the interior surfaces of the shades. A cortisone shot helped for a while, but mainly I swapped things so that I was working more with my left hand. That worked for a long while, but in October, I suddenly had major pain in my left wrist. It took a long time to recover enough to allow me to get back to lampshades, but three months later, I got back to work. In the meantime, I was able to do small projects. Mainly that meant bottle stoppers, which are lots of fun, and very popular with my clients. But not making lampshades was a shock to my system. To a very large extent, I define myself as the person who makes these lampshades, it is challenging and interesting for me to make them, and I take a lot of pride in these large turnings. To some extent, I suppose this was a sneak preview of my future: at some point in my life, it will become beyond my physical capabilities to make lampshades. But not yet, not for 10 or more years I hope!

What happened to get me back to "shade-shape?" Well laying off surely helped, gave my wrist a chance to recover. And I developed a couple of technical solutions so that the steps in making a shade that were the most stressful on my hands are not so bad anymore. Finally, just at the point where i was able to get back to work full time, I also saw a terrific hand expert who explained what was going wrong, and understanding the underlying issues turned out to be a great relief, almost exhilarating.

To make a long story short, I have extra long ulna bones. The ulna is the smaller diameter bone running the length of our forearms. I have probably had this condition my whole life, but the work I do has brought it into play as a problem. There is a name for this: "ulnar impingement syndrome." The head of the ulna bone is getting pressed against a pad of cartilage that is in my wrist, kind of below my pinky. Seeing my x-rays and comparing them to the structure of a normal wrist is remarkable, and the diagnosis is very obvious. I have irritated that cartilage pretty badly in both wrists, maybe there is some small amount of shredding there too.

The good news is that I have adapted my work techniques to reduce the impingement issues. Even better for the long term, there is a surgical procedure that would shorten my ulna bones, and it is supposedly very safe, and does not put me out of action for too long. I don't have any plans to get this surgery soon, maybe never. But if and when I need it, I will get it done and move on. There should be no reason that this medical issue will stop me from making shades long in to the future!

Hooray!!! So now I am back to work full time. It is taking me a while to get back to full strength, but the shades are getting made, they are as good or better than ever, and I am happy to be doing what I want.

February 1, 2008

Been too long since my last post

Wow, hard to believe I have let things ride this long without a new post. I could say I was too busy, and that is an excuse that has some credence up until October. But for three months beginning in early October, I was unable to make lampshades, due to a wrist injury. I guess i will tell you more about that in another post, but I have this fear that my blog will become a running inventory of the nicks and bruises that come from being a turner of large scale objects, at an age that seems to be catching up to me. I will try to keep that under some control so that this does not sound like the TV show ER!

In any case, I am now back to work full time and trying to catch up. I accumulated a large batch of special orders to do this winter, more than I have had for many years, and sales were great throughout the fall. So, I guess my legitimate excuse for not posting to the blog will be in effect again. Still, I have lots of stories to tell.

•• The wrist injury, for those of you who want that sort of info.

•• A lovely huge commission that got installed in November

•• Our trip to Australia over Christmas to visit the exchange student we hosted last year.

I could also tell you about our Empty Nest Syndrome, as our son has gone off to college. Or my newly revived interest in photography. Or you could ask me questions about my work, my passions, whatever. I am never sure anyone is actually reading this blog, so please let me know what you find interesting. I will try to post about the topics I listed above, in the near future.

Thanks for reading, Peter