Walt Cottingham / Hawk Ridge FarmI have lived in the Southern Appalachians for most of my life, and have been creating craft pieces since childhood....
My interest in making things from wood goes back as far as my early childhood memories. As a child, I made everything from birdhouses and wooden necklaces to a log cabin.
My formal training in woodworking started with a one week carving course at John C. Campbell Folk School in 1967. The first time I saw a wood lathe was about 4 years later when I enrolled in a general woodworking class at JCCFS. The class was complete before I was finished with my project at the lathe, so a lathe was the first large tool I purchased. This began a lifetime of working with wood.
Through the years and a career in construction, I applied those early carving skills in the form of whittling and added tools to my shop to build custom furniture, cabinets, etc. I have also used a chainsaw to cut hundreds of cords of firewood and pulpwood in the last few decades.
My contemporary pursuits reflect a lifetime of learning, acquiring tools and building skills. The passion for my current work ignited in about 2006. My son, Chuck, had started turning bowls and I began helping him harvest wood and we both gained a better understanding of how to work with green wood and how to best use a lathe. After a couple years of dabbling, I turned my first natural edge bowl and I was hooked. My son and I routinely share our inspirations and our common craft has enhanced our relationship.
Membership in the American Association of Woodturners has presented with opportunities for direct exposure to the work of professional wood artists. I had begun experimenting with some modest carving on my turned items. In 2012, I saw an AAW article about Gary Stephen's work with large burls. The shell and vortex forms he created with a chainsaw, lathe and carving tools really inspired me. Later that year, I had the opportunity to see Chris Ramsey demonstrate his style of legs on a closed form bowl. Their work, along with artists like Alan Hollar, John Jordan, and Christopher White, just to mention a few, has inspired me to find new ways to reveal and enhance the beauty which present in nature beneath the bark of a tree.
So, while carving and woodturning were once separate methods used to create objects that are pleasing in shape and appearance, I have discovered that combining these paths has opened another dimension for me, which allows me to work more in harmony with nature and my own imagination.