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Seeing Hidden Beauty

Area woodturners can see a gem
inside a simple piece of wood

Madison’s Chapman exhibits
his work at Art on Main gallery

(January 2016) – Gary Chapman of Madison, Ind., knows you can’t judge a book by its cover or a chunk of wood by the ugly covering of bark that surrounds it.
“Imagine you take a big old chunk of dirty wood to a lathe, and in a half hour, you uncover a beautiful gem that you would never find until you cut away the outside,” Chapman said. “You can’t judge a book by its cover.

Photo by John Sheckler

Gary Chapman of Madison, Ind., is one of many members of the Southeastern Indiana Woodturners.

Chapman has been working with wood for 50 years and is a proud member of the Southeastern Indiana Woodturners. His special love is for the lathe. He has a collection of beautiful bowls on display at the Art on Main Gallery. Recently, the Indiana Economic Development Corp. purchased 36 pieces of his work to be given as gifts to business leaders in China and Japan.
Southeastern Indiana Woodturners President Don Barnes of Ripley County, Ind., has a similar philosophy about the inner beauty of wood.
“You can take something that looks as if it belongs in a fire pit and when you get through with it, you have a piece of art,” said Barnes.
Chapman remembers finding a treasure chest of diamond in the rough wood.
“A woman called me because she had a tree cut down and needed to get rid of the wood,” Chapman continued. “I found some beautiful ambrosia maple in the pile. When they cut the tops of a maple tree, the ambrosia beetle goes in and stains the wood a beautiful color.”
The woman said Chapman could take what he wanted. She just wanted four bowls in return. He took a truckload and then he realized how beautiful it was. So he went back for more, but she had given it to someone for firewood.
Chapman and Barnes share the common goal of the Southeastern Indiana Woodturners. They want to help people of all ages, and especially young people, develop an interest in wood art.
“In the five or six years I have been in the club, we have introduced around 100 people to the art of wood turning,” said Barnes. “Once, I was making a little Christmas ornament, and I was tickled that one of the ladies watching me came up and wanted to learn how to make them.”
Being at club meetings has that effect on the other members.
“I am looking forward to doing an urn one of these days,” said Barnes. “It isn’t planned for anyone in particular. I was watching Gary make one, and now I want to get into that.”
Chapman’s father was a carpenter, so he grew up with wood.
“I built my own house in the seventies because of my background with my father,” Chapman said.
Chapman grew up in Raceland, Ky., but has lived in Madison and taught art for 40 years.
“I taught painting, drawing and sculpture, but not wood,” he said. I would go home at night and work with wood. Even when I was in high school I was interested in wood and would go home and build furniture.
I am hooked on wood I guess.”
When building furniture, he used to be busy all the time on his table saw. “Now that I am turning wood, the saw is just a table,” Chapman said.
The turning point came when Chapman started working with master wood worker John York in Hanover, Ind. York had taken a class in wood turning and said, “Gary, you have to try this.”
“Once you start, it is addictive,” said Chapman. “Every piece of wood is a gem. No two pieces are alike. Every piece you uncover is always different. I probably turned over 1,000 bowls, but if they were all lined up, there would be no two alike.”
To hollow out a bowl, wood turners like Chapman use calipers to measure the thickness of the sides. They cut away the insides with a deep hollowing tool shaped like a hook.
Barnes has a deep respect for the work produced by other club members.
“Gary is a terrific artist when it comes to wooden objects and what to do with them,” said Barnes. “He often has a friendly competition with other artists about how good a sanding job is done on the inside of the bowls.”
“The wood is a work of art in itself,” said Chapman. “You have to use it in a way to take advantage of that natural beauty.”
When Chapman made a bowl with an open knothole in the bottom, a man complained it would not hold soup.
“Not all bowls are functional. Some are aesthetic,” said Chapman. “You take what Mother Nature gives you and try to work with it. Turning is different than furniture. I look at the wood and interpret what needs to be done with it.”
Like Chapman, Cliff Andrew of Hanover, Ind., also had a carpenter for a father and worked with wood all his life. “I had a heart attack and open heart surgery several years ago,” said Andrew. I had limits on what I could do, so I bought a small lathe.”
It wasn’t long before he bought a bigger lathe. He doesn’t sell in galleries like Chapman but has displayed at a few art fairs. He also sells cremation urns, and both sell to funeral homes.
“My urns are a little bit different. Gary is probably the best turner at the club,” Andrew said.
One thing different about the work done by Andrew is that he uses veneers as an accent when he glues wood together before making a goblet.
“The club has accomplished a lot with new members,” said Andrew. “Members will take a new member aside and help them get started. They are very big on safety.”
Southeastern Indiana Woodturners is a chapter of the American Association of Woodturners. They meet on a farm in Holton, Ind., in Ripley County that has six or seven lathes. There are new members at nearly every meeting.
“We start at 9 a.m. and go until 2 or 3 p.m.,” said Chapman. “It is an active meeting. We teach everything from wood turning to chain saw use.”
Club members work hard to keep the art of wood turning alive because much wood turning today is done by robots or machine turning.
“The art of Hand turning is being lost because it is not cost effective,” Chapman added. “There are now 3-D wood turners and even 3-D printers.”
The club started in 2010 and has 60 members of all ages. They work to encourage young and old to learn the art of wood turning. Some members are more than 80 years old and are still active wood turners.
“We do a lot of demonstrations at county fairs and craft fairs to encourage young children,” said Chapman. “We can teach an 8-year-old how to turn a pen in about 15 minutes, and they get hooked.
It gives them that reward – the feeling of pride.”
Barnes has equal enthusiasm for introducing new members to the beauty of wood turning art.
“We offer an open invitation to everyone who might be interested in joining us,” said Barnes. “All are welcome.” 

• For more information about Southeastern Indiana Woodturners, call Gary Chapman at (812) 273-4120 or club president Don Barnes at (812) 701-2993.

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