Turning Wood AND Turning Heads: Devon Palmer, Wood Craftsman Extraordinaire!

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As with so many other artists that I have interviewed, I first became aware of Devon Palmer/Devon Palmer Woodturning and his gorgeous woodworking on the Art and Artists of 614 Facebook page.  Then, he participated in the Falling for Local show at Franklin Park where I had a chance to see some of his work in person and watch him utilize his lathe to create some small items for our customers.  We ran into each other a few times after that, I saw more of his work online and asked him to let me feature him.
  devon at Hollow
We met at one of my fav places, Strongwater Food & Spirits for dinner and a lively conversation about his background, choice of wood turning and his plans for the future.  Devon grew up on a farm with acres of corn, wheat and soy along with 12,000 chickens in Marion Indiana.  A shy, geeky kid, he grew up with a mom who marched to a different drummer–rode a bike across the USA at age 38!!– who was always crafting something and became an excellent wood turner. Eventually, his dad picked up wood turning…do you see where this is going?  LOL!devon 2

From farm life, he transitioned to  college where he attended Purdue with the goal of becoming a pilot. However, that was not in the cards because he found out he was color blind.  Sooo, he opted for a degree in Aviation Technology.  That led to him becoming an aviation mechanic for a charter air business.  After 7 years in this position, he felt he had no room for advancement so he left Indiana to come to Columbus where he began work as an IT infrastructure engineer.  Since then, he has worked for BMW Financial, Chase and, currently, Value City.  He says he has changed jobs about every 5 years for a number of reasons including advancement, salary, etc.

A preview of a piece crafted from an ash tree and the balustrades that he just made

A preview of a piece crafted from an ash tree and the balustrades that he just made

Having grown up on a farm, he was used to physical activity and his jobs really didn’t provide a level that he was comfortable with.  So, he looked for a hobby that would provide this…first, he chose working with clay and signed up for a class.  Guess that wasn’t meant to be either as the class was cancelled!  Step in his dad…he encouraged Devon to join him in wood turning and Devon took him up on it.  A great opportunity to bond with his dad and a love of the art blossomed.  He has been at it now since 2004!

Devon's studio complete with Junctionview sign

Devon’s studio complete with Junctionview sign

 As Devon explains it:
A long time ago, a former neighbor gave me a small clay bowl he had thrown.  While we weren’t super close, every time I noticed the bowl, I thought of him.  Having an object connecting me to someone; a time, a place – was so powerful for me.  I wanted to create these connections with others. (and is why I often gift bowls to friends). Originally, I wanted to be a potter.  I signed up for a throwing class that, unfortunately, was cancelled.  My dad was getting into wood turning about this time so, he invited me to try it out.  It was a great way for us to reconnect later in life.  Given the fact I was running a chainsaw at the age of 10, I already had a lot of the skills I needed to get started.  My mother was extremely creative so, I credit her with the drive to create.
Devon's Studio Managers

Devon’s Studio Managers

At that time (2007),  he chose to join Junctionview, opening a studio/shop there.  When that studio space was torn down, he debated what to do and got connected with Columbus Idea Foundry.  Three incarnations of this creative space led the Foundry to set up shop in a warehouse in Franklinton and Devon is thrilled! He is now one of the members of a steering committee working hard to promote the facility through social media and open houses.  He’s also been instrumental in the installation of ovens allowing CIF to provide food for workshop attendees, particularly his amazing pizzas.  Franklinton is inspirational for him as he has seen a strong sense of community with all of the artists…he truly believes that the district is on it’s way to becoming a mecca for artists of all kinds.devon
 When asked to categorize his art, he stated:
 I consider myself a craftsman more than an artist.   It’s all about the mastery of materials, process, technique, and form.    I’m in the process of adapting some of my work to have a deeper “message” and “meaning” that touches the viewer – this is what art is for me.  I really like creating “functional art” – something that is both accessible and meant to be used – the more the better.  Think of that pen, or watch, or bowl, or “thing” that you use daily – it’s your favorite right?  You feel connected to it.  Also, the more that wood items are used, the greater the sense of history and connected-ness to it.

For form and shape, I take cues from living things.  While I like modern/minimalist/bauhaus style, I like common imperfections in wood – knots, twisted grain, cracks, stain.  For me, our self perceived imperfections are what make us “interesting” and individual.   I try to highlight these in my work where appropriate, creating natural, organic curves.  I try to contrast smooth curves with the rough texture of bark and other features when I can.

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Ash borers created these imperfections!

According to him, wood turning can be a very slow process that starts with harvesting wood, roughing out a general shape and then letting that green wood dry and cure for 1-5 years!  He maintains a cache of 300-400 bowls that are in the process of drying.  During a busy year, he can go through 6000 or more pounds of wood!!!  Yikes!  AND when he talks about all of this, he lights up…you can just see the passion he has for his craft.  You can also see it in the pieces that he makes.devon with wood chips

Among some of the many pieces he has made for others, he was honored to be selected in 2014 to make the Greater Columbus Art Council’s Creative Individual, Partnership and Educator awards.devon 1

Teaching is also a passion of his; it’s a big part of how he supports his art.  He feels deeply committed to sharing his knowledge and advancing wood turning as an art form.  As Industrial Arts are no longer part of the core curriculum in schools, he believes that it is up to the craftspeople to keep these skills alive.

In that vein, he would like to begin offering classes for women to empower them to fix their own furniture as well as turning them on to wood turning.  Part of his process in providing classes is to have a pilot class before launching the real thing.  Happily, he has invited me to take part in this some time this spring!!  WOOT!  Now I can add wood working to my repertoire!  Not only does he teach introductory classes at CIF (spindle turning and pen turning), he teaches advanced classes at Wood Craft of Columbus (Bethel and Kenny Roads).  This guy is B-U-S-Y!
In addition to teaching more classes this year, he is aiming to court an area gallery to have his first solo show.  Although he envisioned himself being on the world stage by now, he is not unhappy with how things have turned out.  He’s learned what’s important to him…family, friends, community…and wants to continue to strengthen those ties in 2015.  Continuing to promote himself and his art is also on the horizon for him.
ash borer infested vase 2013

ash borer infested vase 2013

But wait a minute…wood working is not his only talent!  Yep, this guy is multi-talented.  He’s played piano since age 6, taking 12 years of lessons.  Towards the end of these lessons, he began to adapt and modify  the music he was playing giving him a ‘voice’ to create.  He played in a cover band from age 16/17 till 21 (when he started, he had to leave the bars during breaks because he was underage!!!)  Somewhere  down the line, he would like to resurrect this by putting together a music gig with a ‘lounge lizard’  kind of vibe, finding some singers that would like to sing classic lounge material while putting a  spin on it.  Oh, and he’s also recently learned to play the ukulele!

Somewhere down the line, after shoring up his retirement fund, he would like to become an independent IT consultant so that he has the freedom to NOT work a 60 hour week and work for himself.  Of course, his wood turning will be an integral part of this.

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Devon and friend, Mike, at the studio

By now, he and I had had dinner and a couple of drinks and the snow was coming down so we made the trek over to his studio for pics and a chance to see some of the things he is currently working on.  His friend, Mike, was waiting for him and joined us in the studio for a few minutes and shots of  Jameson.
The evening ended with this delightful man giving me a gorgeous little bowl and wine cork.  I feel very lucky to have spent time with this exceptional guy…can’t wait to take his class and experience the joy of creating with wood!
And since the time we met (many weeks due to my recent surgery….sorry it took this long to get this posted!), he has been accepted into The Ohio Designer Craftsman “Best of 2015” Show and will be featured this Wednesday (March 18th) on WOSU-PBS Broad & High show to air at 7:30 p.m. (and again on Sunday March 22 at 5 p.m.)….WOOT!  Let the woodturning continue!!!AND  if you’d like to purchase one of his works of art, you can catch him at many local art festivals as well as at Franklinton Fridays and open houses at CIF.  Of course, you can also contact him for custom work at the e-mails listed below.

 
 Contact info for readers:
 Studio located at CIF: 421 West State Street, Columbus OH 43215

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2 thoughts on “Turning Wood AND Turning Heads: Devon Palmer, Wood Craftsman Extraordinaire!

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