20 Minutes With Ashley Harwood archive

Monday 16 April 2012

Ashley Harwood primarily turns utilitarian items which she sells at a local craft market in Charleston, South Carolina. She also offers classes and gives demonstrations. Tegan Foley finds out more about her


1. Can you briefly explain the type of work you are carrying out at the moment?

Because my primary outlet is a weekly farmer's market here in Charleston, I make a lot of utilitarian bowls, ornaments, and jewellery. I aim for a high level of craftsmanship in all of my work, and I use simple, turned design elements on my bowls to distinguish them. I have found these products to do best at my market. I do take my lathe with me and give weekly demonstrations. I also teach classes at my studio in Charleston.

2. We really like your urchin ornaments, can you briefly describe how these are made?

These were inspired from an article in the AAW magazine - written by David Lutrick. The shells are filled with spray foam to give them rigidity, the holes are ground with a cone-shaped stone, and the top and bottom finials are connected with a 3mm (1/8in) dowel that runs through the centre of the shell. The finials are turned starting with the smallest part - furthest away from the headstock - first. I work back from there, without the use of any kind of steady on the length of the spindle. I finish them simply with sanding sealer and friction polish.

3. What do you most enjoy about teaching woodturning?

As with any kind of teaching, I learn just as much as the students. It's a challenge to figure out 10 different ways to explain each thing, but it pushes my understanding. I enjoy having other people in my studio. Woodturning is almost a solitary art by nature, and I am not a solitary person. Teaching helps to solve this conundrum. I find the energy of a class invigorating, and I relish the flow of ideas. It sparks my own creativity.

4. How has working with neon and glass shaped

your turning style?

Hot glass in particular has greatly influenced my aesthetic for form. Because of the fluidity of glass, it lends itself to flowing curves and elegant shapes. The challenge is to make wood look like it may have been shaped in the same manner, even though woodturning is purely a subtractive process. Glass also teaches you to be sensitive to the material. Neither glassblowing nor woodturning is simply a set methodology that is the same for every piece. A blob of molten glass can have temperature variations that change the way it moves. Similarly, every piece of wood has its own grain and character that dictates how it needs to be cut. It is up to the artist to be attentive to these nuances and react to the medium.

5. What direction to you see your work taking in the future?

I see my work getting bigger – on a different scale altogether. My roots are in installation art. I would like to create pieces that interact with the space they’re in and with the viewer. Rather than the precious object within the space, I want my work to become the space. I would like to explore bringing neon back in to my work as well.

7. If you could only offer one bit of advice to someone starting out turning, what would it be, and why?

Take lessons from someone who can teach you technique. Practice makes permanent, so it pays to be practising the right techniques. Once you master those, you can make anything you want!

Learn to push yourself, even if it means the possibility of losing a piece. You can always pick up another piece of wood. However, if you don't push yourself to your limits, you'll never achieve your full capabilities.

8. What music and which book are you currently into?

The book I'm reading is called Super Sad True Love Story. It's satirical, snarky, and poignant - it offers a view of what we might be like in the near future.

As for music, I am loving Nina Simone's version of I put a spell on you. Also on the playlist in my studio is Adele, The xx, Duffy, Jack Penate, and Zero 7.

9. What was it like working with Stuart Batty; did you learn a great deal from him?

There's always something to learn from Stuart. His proficiency in tool control is exceptional, and his eye for form is fabulous. I admire his tenacity; he is unwilling to accept the tenet that the best way to do things is the way they've always been done in the past. I find myself in this same vein.

10. Which are your favourite items to turn?

Possibly the most fun things to turn are thin, green bowls. It's such a satisfying feeling when those shavings are flying, and I enjoy pushing myself.

11. Which turners do you most admire, and why?

I admire Dale Larson's ability to cut the best bowl out of the tree. Mike Mahoney also inspires me; he has amassed quite a remarkable body of work, and quite a voluminous body of work at that. I enjoy his teaching as well.

I admire Glenn Lucas for his ingenuity. He has adapted every part of the process of bowl turning so that there are no wasted steps, no stray wood chips, and no lost seconds. We had a fantastic time exchanging techniques last November.

And also, Gorst Duplessis - I just love the guy! His ornamental works are exquisite, and he has a great sense of humour as well. Really, there are too many to list.

Woodworkers Institute

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Woodturning , Ashley Harwood

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Contact Details

Email: ashleyharwood@gmail.com

Ashley turning one of her bowls