As the folks from the Chicago Botanic Garden know, nature itself can be an art form. For this year’s American Craft Exposition (ACE), many artists are using the elements of nature in their own work. Perhaps none better than first-time ACE artist Mark Waninger, whose woodturning has turned many heads.
Waninger uses native Indiana hardwood trees, which Indiana woodworkers have used for years due to their unique and disparate characteristics. These one-of-a-kind pieces of wood allow Waninger to develop individual and award-winning works of art which will be on display at this year’s ACE.
We had the opportunity to speak with Waninger ahead of ACE and learned more about the artist, as well as his passion for woodturning.
1. Woodturning is such an important and niche form of art, what inspired you to begin contributing to this craft?
After my early experience in commercial construction, I transitioned to custom millwork, where I ran my own business for more than 20 years. With the housing market decline in 2008, I had the opportunity to once again look at doing something different with my career. Using a wood lathe was one aspect of woodworking that was not really included in the architectural millwork portfolio, but was something I had always been interested in. I bought the lathe, and was hooked as soon as I turned the first piece. Of all the woodworking tools, the lathe allows the most autonomy to be creative. This is the perfect next chapter for me, utilizing my natural creativity and all those transferable woodworking skills to venture in a different direction. I have been exploring woodturning now for four years and this is the third season of selling my work. It has been extremely rewarding and I hope to continue for many years.
2. As a first-time ACE artist, what was your reaction after seeing your artwork featured as part of ACE’s promotional materials?
I am thrilled about the opportunity to be alongside the many talented and well-respected artists at ACE 2016. To have my work selected for inclusion in the promotional materials is a great honor, and makes this event even more exciting for me personally.
3. Can you describe for us the process you go through, in order to turn a piece of hardwood into your incredible works of art?
There is no single process that I follow, at least not yet. I am enjoying the autonomy to experiment with several different themes, styles, and designs. I do consistently try to reclaim or repurpose lumber when I have the opportunity to do so. With the variety of tools acquired over the years, I have the advantage of being able to start with a fallen tree or random piece of wood instead of having to shop for lumber that has already been prepared by someone else. Depending on the characteristics of the wood, I may work it into the boards needed for constructing the segmented turnings, or may cut it into large blanks to dry and use for sculptures and solid turnings. Once a piece is turned, I like to enhance it with colors, carvings, or textures so that each one is unique. All of my turnings are finished on the inside as well as the outside to assure the highest possible level of overall quality. I usually add some little detail on the bottom too. It is great fun to hear “Wow, that’s wood?” the first time someone realizes they are not looking at pottery or glass, and then to see a smile when they look inside a piece or pick one up and turn it over.
4. You mentioned that you have visited many natural wonders within the US. In your travels, where have you been able to draw the most inspiration into your work?
That’s easy –it’s Sedona, Arizona. When you visit my booth, you will see many shades of maroon, red and orange, which are the predominant colors throughout the unique landscape around Sedona. The skies are a brilliant blue with fabulous sunsets that create vibrant blends of pink and purple streaming across the horizon. While hiking in that area, I have observed an abundance of natural curves and spirals, from the wind-shaped rock formations to the twisted Juniper trees growing in the vicinity of an energy vortex. The details added to many of my pieces have been inspired by time spent in Sedona.
5. You are very involved in the initiative to replenish the native Indiana hardwood trees. Can you tell us more about your efforts, and why this cause is important to you?
Growing up in southern Indiana, I spent countless hours exploring portions of the Hoosier National Forest. I developed a great appreciation for the variety, strength and beauty of the trees. The entire course of my life has been directed in many ways by my involvement with wood, from hand carving rough figures as a youth, to my millwork business. It is my hope that future generations will be able to benefit from similar experiences. Planting trees is a way of giving back, or paying it forward, in appreciation of the gift that has been given to me. I have planted more than 4,000 already and I am not finished yet.