20 Minutes with Jim McLain archive

Friday 15 March 2013

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Can you briefly explain the type of work you carry out at present?

I do a variety of work from salvaged landscape trees but mostly traditional southwest forms. In addition, each year I use my Forest Service fire wood permit to cut usable green alligator juniper (Juniperius deppeana) for my 'Chaco' Series. A great deal of my work has turquoise and other stones inlaid into the defects in the wood. With this year's green woodturning, I have started working with new forms for my 'Chaco' series including tall cylinders – 760mm tall or greater - and spherical forms. I hope to have the first of these new forms completed in the middle part of 2013. In the past year I have started using metal acid dyes to colour my 'Chaco' pieces which should help stabilise the colours over time. I have also started working with burnt textured rims on some of my pieces. I made a wood burner from a battery charger in a hands-on class with Graeme Priddle that makes quick work of this type of texturing. In addition, I am still working with colour on my 'Canyon Light' series.

Describe the view from your workshop.

The view from my workshop is not much. I have a view of the street and the neighbour's house but I am able to take in the beautiful New Mexico sunrises over and around the neighbour's house. Although my view is not great, my workshop is unique being a round adobe structure. It is partially heated with solar hot air collectors. To my knowledge it is the only round woodturning shop in the world but there may be others.

What do you most enjoy about woodturning?

Green woodturning is the most enjoyable part of woodturning for me. There is nothing like putting a large section of green alligator juniper or any other type of wood on the lathe and turning the wood away to reveal the beauty inside. The smell of fresh cut juniper (Juniperus virginiana) shavings is incredible.

What direction do you see your work taking in the future?

I plan to continue to improve my 'Chaco' series and my more recent 'Canyon Light' series and develop other ideas inspired by my natural surroundings. New Mexico has more than a lifetime of inspirational material to offer.

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

Join a club. Club members do great demonstrations and are always willing to share everything they know with you. Also, attend one of the annual American Association of Woodturners' Symposiums. I attended my first one in 2003 and was amazed by the level of instruction and the Instant Gallery is very inspirational.

What music and which books are you currently into?

I have always enjoyed Neil Young and Jackson Browne but listen to a variety of music when I am in the workshop. I have never been much of a reader other than newspapers and magazines.

Which are your favourite items to turn?

I most enjoy turning found wood into nice forms but also enjoy turning pieces from my 'Chaco' series because of the amount of detail required in each piece. I really enjoy making a new type

of piece for the first time.

Which turners do you most admire and why?

There are so many great turners out there but I really admire the work of David Nittmann and J. Paul Fennell. David's 'Basket Illusion' series is incredible and his use of colour is brilliant. Paul is the most creative turner in my region. The complexity and attention to detail in Paul's work is second to none.

What do you think the best single development in turning has been?

In my opinion, the development of the American Association of Woodturners (AAW). There are a lot of great tools and equipment available but without the founding and development of the American Association of Woodturners, where would woodturning be today? Outside of the AAW, it would have to be the variable speed lathe.

What do you see yourself doing in five years time?

I see myself retired from my day job and working with wood full time. I should finally have the time to fully explore my current series and work on design concepts I have doodled in my sketch book over the years.

What do you see as the biggest thing that has hindered the development of woodturning?

This is a difficult question and most often answered by the craft vs. art discussion. However, from my view it has only been hindered by the lack of truly exceptional artists that have entered the field which has changed dramatically in the past two to three decades. Woodturning is truly an art form in its infancy compared to the other arts and has a great future.


Woodworkers Institute

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Woodturning , Jim McLain


Jim turning at the lathe (PHOTOGRAPHS COURTESY OF JIM MCLAIN)