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Meet the Artist Interview Series - Tom Haines

Updated: Dec 14, 2022

How do you think your journey in art originally began?

I grew up in Minnesota in the shadow of a woodworker. My father was an amateur builder of furniture, and I was treated to the smell of freshly cut wood from an early age. I was offered scrap pieces, which I used for imaginary play and building my own items. I began to learn different wood types and appreciate the look of them. Wood was in my blood.

What type of art do you create?

I am a woodturner. What does that mean? It means that I make wood art, and each piece I make is round or has surfaces that are arcs of a circle. Bowls, platters, vases, urns and boxes are examples.

Mango Urn in Process

What inspires your art?

I am driven by the confluence of three influences: 

  1. My love of wood. 

  2. My desire to make things; I am a maker. 

  3. My appreciation of shape and form.

Did the way you grew up influence the way you express yourself creatively?

Starting early, one of the pleasures of my life was building things. I am also a life-long sailor, and I carried my enthusiasm for the sport into building a small wooden boat at age 16. In my twenties I built two racing sailboats (wood of course). They were highly functional and beautiful. Having a wood shop has been a constant for my entire adult life, and I have designed and created many pieces of furniture and other functional items over the years. 

Monkeypod and Black Veneer Platter 15 x 4"

Are all of your pieces functional?

No, some are non-functional but artistic. The look of the wood, the shape of the piece, the texture and feel are important to the artistic quality.

Mango and Blackwood Urn

How would you describe your process?

I am often asked about a piece: “How long did it take?” That is a simple question, and a reasonable one…but with a difficult answer for a complicated piece. Of course the question usually comes when it is hard to answer! The simple answer is “I don’t know.” The real answer is “wood turning is a process.” It starts with an idea. One needs to select wood. Purchase it or get it from the wood pile. Drawing it on paper is sometimes necessary. How should I mount it on the lathe? Do I need to make a special fixture for the mounting? Do I have the wood or metal for that fixture? Which tool(s) should be used? What speed should I run the lathe? Is the shape correct (does it match the drawing)? Should I take it off the lathe to check the shape before finishing? What kind of finish should I apply…polyurethane, lacquer, CA glue, oil, shellac, wax, or just polish the wood? So…the true answer is “There was so much going on during the process that I don’t remember, but BOY DID I ENJOY IT!”

Tom Haines, Woodturner

How do you decide which type of wood to use? Sometimes I have a special piece of wood. I need to make something of it. Other times I have a project. I need to find wood to fulfill the project. 

Recently we had a birch tree fall in our yard. I asked the tree man to cut me a piece out of the trunk. Now partly finished, it will be a bowl to remember our beloved tree. Not long ago I decided to create some urns. I needed wood for finials. Blackwood was available from a supplier, which I purchased. Wood is typically available as found wood (the birch tree), purchased wood (blackwood) or contributed wood. Knowing what I do, friends and family contribute. I had a friend who had an aging walnut orchard. He would cut me special pieces or I would go through his wood pile. Woods of note include walnut, maple, blackwood, black acacia, mango, manzanita, and the list goes on. My favorite is usually whatever is on the lathe. Wood will turn wet or dry. Wet wood is easier to turn, but drying after turning is problematic (cracking and warping). Some types of wood are more favored for turning—think furniture versus construction lumber. Favored woods include walnut and maple; Douglas-fir is one that is not. The choice of wood varies depending on the focus of the art piece. A beautiful burl wood dictates a simple shape to show off the wood. Likewise, a complicated shape does well with plain wood.

Walnut Burl Bowl

When did you first realize you wanted to become an artist?

I always enjoyed art. I was good at drawing. But my vision was one of an engineer more than an artist. One of my favorite courses in college was industrial design, which was as close as I could get to art in an engineering curriculum. This class taught me to appreciate and practice good artistic form, which ultimately became the basis of my interest in wood turning. Beyond that, art serves an important function in my life. Art, and, in my case, wood turning, is a lonely, highly-focused endeavor. My time in my shop/studio is meditation. Focusing on one thing for a long period of time is a healthy activity. So, when a customer purchases one of my wood turnings, it is about more than money. It is about giving me a healthier, more dimensional life.

How do you deal with the loneliness of being a solo creator?

As good as creating art can be for me, I am not a hermit. I need the social interaction of meeting potential customers. Art is a two-part, balanced activity: one part being the introverted, studious pursuit; the other being the extroverted, sharing with those interested in art. That is the way it is for me.

What do you hope viewers and collectors take away from your art?

My ego tells me that I want others to see my art as I see it. I want them to see that beautiful shape that I so painstakingly created, the wood with the beautiful grain that took hours to select, the finish of many coats lovingly applied, and the special feature that other woodturners would not attempt. But that is not what art is about. Everyone sees art through their own intellectual and emotional filters. Viewers see art as they see it. The best I can hope for is that viewers and collectors come away with a feeling of pleasure for having seen or purchased my art.

Mango Boxes

For more information about Tom and his artwork, please visit Tom Haines

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