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To Turn the Perfect Wooden Bowl


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About the Author

Ron works as an information architect, writer and industry analyst. He currently consults for several companies including Adobe and Quark and has previously written Woodturner's Companion 9780806979403.


A few weeks ago, I wrote about drawing inspiration for my woodturnings from the work of Bob Stocksdale, one of the most influential woodturning artisans of the past 50 years. No less a luminary than Sam Maloof says, "As far as I'm concerned, Bob Stocksdale was the father of American woodturning." A new book, scheduled to be published soon by Fox Chapel Publishing, offers up an in-depth view of Stocksdale, his work, and his approach to craft. To Turn the Perfect Wooden Bowl (paperback, $24.95), by Ron Roszkiewicz, is based largely on lengthy interviews the author taped with Stocksdale in 1987. Roszkiewicz writes that his objective "is to provide a snapshot of a few days in the studio of an American original and to hear him describe his life and work in that comfort zone." Born and raised in Indiana, Stocksdale turned his first bowl during WWII when, as a conscientious objector, he was detained in a work camp in Michigan. After the war he settled in Berkeley, California, where he lived and worked until he died in 2003. Among his first clients were Gump's, the legendary upscale San Francisco giftware store; Nieman Marcus, equally legendary and equally upscale; and Georg Jensen and Bonnier's, stores that did much to popularize Scandinavian design in this country after WWII. To Turn the Perfect Wooden Bowl reproduces letters to Stocksdale from those stores, and describes in considerable detail how Stocksdale chose his wood, roughed it out with chain saw and band saw, and how he worked at the lathe. But for me the most valuable part of the book is the photography--some 50 examples of his work. The "perfect" bowl of the title may not be among them, but you can quickly see what shapes and curves obviously captivated Stocksdale, because they occur repeatedly. What's also striking to me is how carefully Stocksdale shaped his bowls so that the wood grain and figure had maximum impact. That's no accident. Roszkiewicz writes: "Bob Stocksdale's approach to bowl making was workmanlike and efficient. Wiith each cut, new wood emerged and he often stopped to calculate the effect of continuing on the current path or altering the design." To Turn the Perfect Wooden Bowl won't teach you woodturning technique. But the inspiration and insight it does provide are worth it all. --------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Many consider Bob Stocksdale to be the father of American Woodturning, and this book is about his lifelong quest to turn the perfect bowl. Bob Stocksdale never wrote a "how to turn" book in his lifetime and was one of the few big name turners who never did. The only other contemporary turner in the same league with Stocksdale is David Ellsworth, who had never put his techniques and philosophies into book form until his recent publication. Bob Stocksdale's work was one of the first I was able to recognize by sight. His classical forms were perfectly executed and flawlessly finished, and they left no doubt as to who made the vessel. Working mostly by himself - there weren't a lot of other turners when he started - and using primarily exotic timbers, he helped lead the way to the woodworking and woodturning renaissance that was underway in the mid-1980s. I don't get a lot of time to just sit down and enjoy a book, and usually devote my Christmas holiday vacation time to doing just that. I buy different paperback and hardcover books during the year, and those that haven't been read come with me. I got this book just prior to my trip and was looking forward to reading it on the beaches of Jamaica. BOOK FORMAT The book is basically a series of interviews that the author had with Stocksdale, while following him for a few days in 1987. The book's objective was to "provide a snapshot of a few days with an American original, and to hear him describe his life and work in that comfort zone." The book was originally planned to be released in 1987; however, the sale and subsequent resale of the original publishing house doomed the book. The book sat on the author's shelf until it was pitched to its current publisher. The book starts out with a biography of Stocksdale and how began his woodworking career using a pocket knife at age six, to when and how he came to be a turner while in the Conscientious Objector (CO) camps during WW11. It follows his life from the time he was released from those CO camps at the end of the war, until 1987, when the material for this book was collected. Included in this chapter are various letters sent to Bob and different newspaper clippings that provide a bit of insight into his life. The next section is a 30+ page gallery of his work. Stocksdale made functional pieces from exotics and domestic hardwoods, and was one of the first turners I became aware of who made use of what came to be called "natural edge." The vessels are beautiful and chronicled a lifetime of work. Those photos alone are worth the price of the book. The next chapter, done in a question-and-answer format, covers Stocksdale's philosophies on his chosen medium. Included are his views on various topics, ranging from procuring wood to drying methods, fixing defects, wood selection, burls, and decorating his work. The next chapter is basically a tour through Stocksdale's shop. The different stationary tools he used are discussed and insights that led to the way his turning tools were developed are also given. He, along with Jerry Glaser, pioneered many of the tools and techniques we take for granted today. A short section on sharpening follows, before the reader is taken through Stocksdale's processes for turning both a bowl and a platter. Step-by-step photos are provided along with a description of the process from start to finish. This is followed by a section on sanding and finishing. The last section discusses the "business of woodturning" and how he developed his pricing system, packed the vessels, and how he cultivated sales to retail outlets and collectors. Also discussed is the influence that James Prestini had on Stocksdale's work. FINAL THOUGHTS I absolutely enjoyed the book. When I started woodturning, Stocksdale was one of the premier artists of the time, and a lot of turners emulated his style and forms. Though he didn't teach or write articles or books, he managed to influence an entire contingent of budding turners during the time turning was making its comeback - and I am one of those people. I'm disappointed that I was never able to include one of Stocksdale's peices in my collection. I recommend the book to anyone who is interested in the history of woodturning and wants to look into the daily life of one of the true masters of the lathe. I read a prepublication copy of the book and the price was unknown at the time. I am looking forward to its publication date, because this book with definately be added to my library.
I have always been a book kind of guy and on many subjects I would almost as soon read about it as do it. There are dozens of books in my home on many topics of interest, but as you can imagine, woodworking and turning are two of my favorites. I was cleaning out a few books a while back and came across an old favorite from some years ago. It was published by the National Geographic Society in 1975 as part of a series on many different topics. This one is called "The Craftsman in America" (now out of print) and as I thumbed back through it I realized that much of what I love to work on and really admire springs from this book. In the introduction, Gilbert M. Grosvenor captures what I think may be the feelings of every craftsman in the world: "Every morning when I dress for work, I smile smugly at the quiet, smooth way my chest of drawers opens and closes at a slight touch of a fingertip. The early sun's rays reflect the warm matched grain and the rich color of the wood. My pleasure goes beyond mere ownership, for I built that chest myself from teak I imported from Burma and carefully aged in my basement workshop for two years." I know exactly what he meant. I have a table I made at the back door, a lamp table in the den, a clock in the hall and another on the mantle, all of which I made with these two hands and enjoy every day. Bowls I make for sale sit in my dining room so I can see and touch them every day and sometimes I consider keeping all of them. Would you sell your children? In the National Geographic book from 1975, they featured Sam Maloof, who died only recently after a long career in woodworking. We should all be so good; that was 35 years ago and he was well known even then. Of course there were many other craftsmen in the book, among them, Bob Stocksdale, wood turner extraordinaire. In fact, in the picture of Maloof's furniture, the bowls on the table were by Bob Stocksdale, taken in trade for some Maloof furniture. What a deal on either side of that exchange! I bought a book at Highland last week about Bob Stocksdale and it is quite well done. The title is Turn the Perfect Wooden Bowl, the Lifelong Quest of Bob Stocksdale by Ron Roszkiewicz. It is a perfectly delightful little book, full of color photos of bowls plus many other photos of Stocksdale at work. Apparently he was not always a very social fellow; he just wanted to work in his shop and not be bothered by guests, students or writers. He collected wood from all around the world and when he passed away a few years ago, his shop was filled with literally tons of wood. Some of it was good and some of it was not and some of it was good firewood. That didn't bother him, because as he explained, he had two fireplaces. I like that. Another book I really enjoy is Ellsworth on Woodturning, subtitled "How a Craftsman Creates Bowls, Pots & Vessels" by David Ellsworth. This is a big glossy book by another master of the craft. Ellsworth is the inventor of the eponymous Ellsworth Signature Gouge, which is one tool I have not managed to purchase yet, but I admit I am intrigued by it after reading this book. This is more a reference book than some you see, and I intend to make this a step-by-step instruction book on hollow forms - the next step in my turning education. Besides that, how can you pass up a book with a whole chapter on proper exercises before beginning work? Ellsworth starts his turning classes with everyone stretched out flat on their backs on the floor. He also has a small trapeze in the ceiling of his shop which he uses to hang by his hands several times a day to keep loose and flexible when he is working at the lathe. And I don't think I have ever seen instruction on how to plant your feet versus your elbows and hands while holding the tool at the lathe. Who would've thought? I think the main thing I get out of books like these is "possibility." Somehow I can fool myself into thinking that if those guys can do it, then I can do it. Seeing it broken down into steps and watching someone do it just opens up all those possibilities to me, and I am empowered to start. Once started, I find that I can usually get better and then off I go. I promise not to buy a book on brain surgery.
When I picked this book for the book review this month I wasn't sure what I was going find. I don't do much on a lathe (pens and mice, actually) and I have never attempted to make a bowl. I wasn't 100% sure that this was going to be a great book for me. What a pleasant surprise I received! Right from the start the author had my interest - and I mean from the start! The foreword, the behind the book story, was just as fascinating as the book itself. Once I started reading I simply didn't want to put it down. To Turn the Perfect Wooden Bowl is basically an interview with Bob Stocksdale, one of the bowl-turning gurus of all times. Within the pages of the book, we get to know Bob almost on a personal level. We are painted the picture of his childhood, his relationship with wood, and, for those bowl-turners out there, his tips and tricks to turn that perfect bowl. In one of the quotes, Mr. Stocksdale says that he tries to bring out the inner beauty of the wood. Perhaps this is what makes him an exceptional artist. Throughout the pages of the book, we see one example after another where he seems to be connected with the wood, knowing what lies within the outer layers. As I read the book I was reminded of Michelangelo saying that, with his statue of David, he just chipped away anything that wasn't David! That special connection that an artist has with the material he is working with takes a beautiful piece of work and makes it exceptional. Here at our members share their personal journeys of attaining this level of connection with wood. Some of us may never reach that pinnacle but will definitely enjoy the journey, especially when we are inspired by such work as that of Bob Stocksdale and books such as To Turn the Perfect Wooden Bowl. My Ratings of The Book Layout and Appearance: Wonderful balance of photographs, interview questions, and quotes from letters and news clippings. Thumbs Up! Instructions: Lots of tidbits of information tucked away in the interview. Thumbs Up! Inspiration: "in leaps and bounds." Thumbs Up! Overall: Thumbs Up!
This book shares the life and work of Bob Stocksdale, an artist who led a quiet revolution in the field of contemporary craft. The impact the artist has had on tile field of contemporary woodturning is undeniable and this small volume will undoubtedly make his approach accessible to future generations of woodtuners. The home and srudio Stocksdale shared with his wife, fibre artist Kay Sekimachi, was a testament to both his work ethic and embrace of a modest lifestyle. Every morning, following breakfast, the two would "go to work" - she to her light-filled loft and he to his basement workshop, with catacomblike areas stacked with chunks of trees, rough turned bowls and planks of wood on which to display his completed works. The small format of To Tum the Perfect Wooden Bowl, which measures 8" square, perfectly reflects Bob Stocksdale's humble approach. Radler than striving to promote the artist with flashy reproductions, presented in a weighty coffee-table book, it remains faithful to who Stocksdale was as a man and an artist. His approach was straightforward and consistent - creating simple bowl forms which best displayed the natural beauty of a particular piece or variety of timber. Purposely limited to simple bowl and platter forms, his works showcased subtle differences - a slight variation in the bowl's foot or in tlle curve of a bowl's profile, combined with a wide range of both domestic and exotic woods, led to an impressively varied body of work. The majority of the artist's works were modest in scale but had a quiet beauty, much like the book. Stocksdale was a connoisseur on the subject of wood and his bowls always featured, along with his signature and date, the variety of timber and where the tree grew. When collectors visited his studio, they would be told the stories of the pieces of raw material stacked behind and in his workshop. He would share the characteristics of a particular timber, where it had grown and often the history of how it came to grow in that area. Most importantly, Stocksdale knew what was within a seemingly unimpressive slab of wood and how to bring it out. In some respects, the book seems to have come from another time, from the use of the almost archaic term "wooden" in the title, to the black-and-white process photos. There are two reasons for this. The first is that the interview and photographs date back to 1987, when the idea for the book was greenlighted by Scribner's, only to have that firm bought by Macmillan, a company that in turn experienced a hostile business takeover and restructuring which left the book project in limbo. Perhaps more importantly, by 1987, Stocksdale was already an "old school" craftsman, and the field of woodturning was expanding rapidly into mixed media and sculptural approaches. Yet, the artist's approach is timeless and a number of practitioners have chosen to follow a similar path today, showing promise of a neo-traditionalist movement in woodturning which Stocksdale would have surely appreciated. To Tum the Perfect Wooden Bowl is a book that will be of value to collectors and curators, as it shares the artist's story through biographical details, copies of letters and memorabilia. Yet, the book is largely designed for the growing market of amateur woodturners who can learn from Stockdale's techniques for turning bowls and sharpening tools, as well as his marketing savvy. It also provides a continuum in the field of contemporary craft, celebrating those who came before. The Foreword by Sam Maloof, who is considered the dean of woodworking in the US and was Stocksdale's best friend, is touching. The fact that Maloof died earlier this year underlies the sense that this is a book from another time - one generation reaching out to the future and sharing its passion and vision.

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