Monday 12 January 2009
Mark Baker takes a look through an extraordinary woodturning career
Nestled in the lovely countryside of County Carlow in a small village called Knockclonegad lives a 34-year-old turner, Glenn Lucas. Along with his wife Cornelia and two children Isabel and Matthew, they have built a home and developed the land to include a stunning workshop, a couple of kilns, and storage units. They need them, too: Glenn has gained a fine reputation as a production turner of bowls, and sells them to galleries around the world.
Early interestIt is certainly true that Glenn has always had a passion for woodworking. His parents bought a cabinet-making tool set for him on his sixth Christmas. His family, farmers by trade, knew a local journeyman cabinetmaker by the name of Tommy Keyes, who took the time to show Glenn how to sharpen tools and use them. Glenn mentions Tommy with fondness and says that the time spent with him was very influential in his development.
Glenn attended Kilkenny College at the age of 13, and soon reached the stage where he was making breadboards and other items to be sold to the teachers. The money was used to buy more tools, including his first lathe at 16 from a local engineer.
"It was homemade," remembers Glenn, "one from box iron with no Morse tapers and a built-in revolving centre that couldn't be removed from the spindle. Every weekend I would modify it with angle grinder and new pieces of iron to make it do the things I wanted it to." Following the new acquisition, Glenn moved his workshop to a hay shed. "At this stage I bought a planer thicknesser, bandsaw and a few other machines. I bought old items that were well built and would refurbish them. I learned about tool maintenance, metalwork and so on, and I also had a little sideline of refurbishing lathes and selling them too."
At the young age of 17 he had two lathes. "I had sold the one I bought and acquired another home-made one with a Fiat 127 4-speed gearbox. Similar in shape to an old Viceroy. I could knock it into neutral but had to walk 150 ft to switch it off. A Union Jubilee lathe was next on the list, but was being sold for £700, which I did not have. My father loaned me the money."
Progression"I made wooden rings, jewellery boxes, plates, bowls and so on, getting inspiration from Richard Raffan's book 'Turning Bowl Design' and Ray Key's book 'Woodturning & Design', [the latter of] which I finally got him to sign at this year's National seminar. It was novel having girls come to me and buy some of the items made. At 17 I thought this was great.
"While at college I also got to know Mark & Trevor Stedmond, Willy Stedmond's children. They had seen some of my work made in the art room window outside the staffroom office. They spoke to me about their father's turning courses, which cost £150 for a one-day course. I had a teacher at school buy something from me, and I mentioned the course; she spoke to the head teacher who agreed to pay for it.
"I had this piece of burr elm which I picked up while mowing a field for silage and knew it was something special. I recalled a photo from Ray's book, and when I took it to Willy's within 20 minutes he had it turned and sanded. It was my first experience of seeing someone else turn. Willy showed me the correct tools, usage, sharpening and so on, and I was then able to buy things effectively without wasting money.
New heights"During my last year of school, one of the teachers, who was an organiser of Kilkenny Arts Week Festival, allowed me to get a space in one of the best venues in Kilkenny. In the summer of 1992 I sold over £1000 from my work, made from 50 pieces, and won Best of the Fringe awards. The weekend after the arts week, I attended my first national seminar and won 2nd place with a piece of my work.
"In 1993 when I left school, I got into Manning's Furniture factory in Bagenalstown, County Carlow. After returning, I happened upon a business card of [Crafts Council Chief Executive] Les Reed, given to me by Lorenzo Tonti, and applied to go on the Kilkenny 18 month Craft & Design Business course. I was on the course with other craftmakers - Emmet Kane was in the same year as me, and Roger Bennett had been on it the year before. People from all craft and art disciplines were there. I was 21, and one of the business panel asked me if I was too young. I said I didn't think age was an issue."
"At the end of course there was an end of course event called Showcase Ireland, which showed giftware, fashion accessories and tabletop items. Subsequent to the show I was contacted by some American buyers who placed an order for 50 bowls. That company has been with me for the last 13 years.
"In 1997, I moved to Carlingford, Count Louth, funded by Peace & Reconciliation. It was a prerequisite of the course that we set up business near the North South Border in order to try to help regenerate the area so I moved to a grain store. This became my workshop for 8 years, where I developed my production techniques and made about 700-1000 bowls per year, and a few one off pieces. It was during my time there I met my wife to be, and she moved into the area managing a Gallery and promoting North and South art programmes and community building.
Current surroundingsIn 2005, I moved to back to Carlow, building a new house on seven acres of land owned by my parents, and in conjunction with a local builder we started the build. I bought a JCB to do the groundwork and sold it immediately afterwards for the same money I paid for it. I wanted the workshop, 20ft x 40ft, and the other storage area, 20ft x 30ft, to be as far away from the road as possible and the yard near the house to be able to handle an articulated lorry for deliveries when necessary. I now have planning permission for a 60 x 30ft workshop too.
I have equipped the workshop with five Vicmarc lathes, a VB36, a large 700mm throat 5.5hp motor bandsaw and a Sedgewick circular saw, a Robland thicknesser and a Record bench drill & compressor. I also own a fork lift and have two kilns. I have various makes of chuck, from 4-5inches in size. I use Woodcut, Henry Taylor and Hamlet tools.
All through my time spent with Glenn his drive and passion were evident in all he did and has done. I am of the opinion that he will continue to refine and develop working methods to make sure that they are the most efficient they can be. I believe he is developing a special range of turned in addition to his usual bowlware and is also working on creating a teaching school as the next large projects. Whatever the future holds and I am sure that he is destined to succeed.