Norwegian Woodturning Cruise 1 www.woodturningcruise.com

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Norwegian Woodturning Cruise 1 www.woodturningcruise.com

Postby gavin » Wed Aug 27, 2008 3:25 pm

Report on Norwegian Woodturning Cruise www.woodturningcruise.com


The idea is to charter a ship...
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and fill it with woodturning supplies and machinery, visit various ports in Norway, charge the public 100 kroner (i.e. GBP 10!!) just to have the opportunity to buy the woodturning supplies and machinery.

The passengers pay approx GBP 2000 per head for this 11 day cruise, which I understand is pretty much the going rate for a Norwegian coastal cruise, so you could argue the woodturning is thrown in nearly free. Many men come to learn turning and improve technique, and their partners come to look at the scenery. That said, there were perhaps 15 female turners amongst the passengers.

The format was that the demonstrators would exhibit and teach passengers between ports, and exhibit to the public at the ports, while many of the passengers went off on shore excursions. Clare and I demonstrated on the dockside ( I'll put in video links to a later posting) , and we're rather quicker now at putting up and taking down 2 travelling lathes...
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(I'll suggest this style be renamed the "Norwegian cruising lathe" - and we'll see if the name sticks!)

Clare had a sore shoulder, so was more into spoon-carving than turning, and attracted interest in this with one-on-one 'have-a-go' sessions.

Here's one of her student's spoons:
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There were some 250 passengers and approx 30 demonstrators, including Stuart Mortimer, Jimmy Clewes, Dick Sing and Richard Raffan. Some of their work is so highly esteemed by collectors (especially in the USA) that they will sometimes sell a single piece for over USD 10,000

How can a piece of wood be worth so much money? Why does the market revere some and shun others? Picasso's paint and canvas was worth diddly-squat when it was at the art-supply shop. But after Picasso combined them, they're worth millions. He also had the same dealer from 1912 till he died, so clearly someone knew something about marketing.

There's something in the phrase "The universe responds to a clear intent."

Remarks on some of the demonstrators
Over breakfast one day, I asked Richard Raffan (probably the most famous turner in the world) how he got going. He told me he'd been very successful in the wine business, got bored with it, and decided he needed a change in 1970. His sister was a potter, and apparently could have introduced him to some famous cabinet maker, or to a turner. He decided to do an apprenticeship with the turner, which was dissolved within some months i.e. sooner than anticipated. He did not try turning as a hobby, he took the bull by the horns and got stuck in. Richard's remark: "If I'd gone with the cabinet maker, I'd be a famous cabinet maker now" struck me very powerfully. He made up his mind he was going to be mega-successful, and the only question was in which area.

Innovation seems to be a key ingredient in success. Stuart Mortimer creates spiral forms on the lathe. I don't know if he invented these, but his work is quite recognizable. Dick Sing turns tiny pieces with amazing precision - and he does other stuff as well. But I understand he is known for the tiny things more than anything else, and seems to get a very good living from it.

Jimmy Clewes creates DVDs on woodturning technique. By teaming up with video experts who have innovated with ideas such as the tool-mounted 'bevel cam', his sales are powerful. Just as you get cooking programs where the cook travels to various exotic locations, so Jimmy is publishing his "Turning the World" series, turning in one country after another. And so last week he was filmed in sunny Bergen, the water rippling as a backdrop. http://www.youtube.com/v/4SiqM1N10s4&hl=en&fs=1
Should you ever see these scenes, see if you can hear the sound of a pole-lathe, as we were about 20 meters from his shoot. But given the kit and skill his video team evidently have, I rather doubt you'll hear us. He is also a highly-regarded teacher. Some of those he taught on this cruise commented how he would ask them if they wanted to leave his surface on the piece, or if they'd rather Jimmy removed the surface Jimmy had just put on, so they could try the surfacing technique for themselves. I see that being a good turner does not make you a good teacher.

Carving limewood - called 'bass wood' in the US - is very popular there. The expert here is Wayne Barton. He innovated by bringing the craft to the US from Switzerland in the 1970's, and writing a number of books. Since you need only 2 scalpel-type knives and a small plank of wood, it is very accessible.

Mark Baker, editor of the "Woodturning" magazine, tells me few people make money out of books, but they do get your name noticed.

Arthur Aveling sells King Arthur's Tools which are based on the angle-grinder with some abrading device e.g. sand-paper, small teeth or chainsaw blade. They produce dust and noise, and you'll hear them in some of the video sequences. They are not my thing, BUT he sells shed loads of them, and even in the US recession, he tells me his sales are up 15%. He is another innovator, and you'll see video-silliness in a later post as he inducts various people into orders of the Round Table. Some will say this is over the top. I'd agree, and I love the man's chutzpah, and the sense of fun he creates. Here he is admitting Richard Raffan ( probably the most famous turner in the world) into the Round Table:

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Richard Raffan got into the middle-rank of knights, I was put in the most juniour rank.

What is relevant in all this for greenwoodworkers?
The biggest lesson I take from this is: If you want to make a quid out of woodwork, be prepared to innovate and create something new. And that surely applies to us greenwoodworkers too. Up to now, if I had thought about this at all, it would be to see what products had been made in the past, and work out better ways of making those that interested me. My new question is: what new product can we each invent? What new thing can we create? I now don't want to make only old products - I want to make greenwood work relevant, either with new products, or by transmitting skills which could become very carbon-relevant very soon.

Many Norwegians would come past and say "Ah the old ways... " and then smile patronizingly - like you do in a superior way at a child who has just improved on some minor skill.
Half-way through the cruise, I decided to respond: "Yes, and these old ways may yet become very modern." Try this response yourselves, and just count the seconds until they say anything.

I don't know just what people are thinking while you are counting, but it will be a version of: "What if carbon rationing were introduced... ? What if energy becomes prohibitive in cost? How soon will I have to change... ?"

We sold enough to keep us in beer money, which in Norway was a surprise.

Here's a picture of the shop set-up, with our signage in Norwegian...
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Last edited by gavin on Sun Aug 31, 2008 7:50 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Postby Nicola Wood » Wed Aug 27, 2008 7:34 pm

Thanks Gavin, that's very interesting.

I don't really know any of the other turners, but have spent a bit of time with Richard Raffan and am a big fan. Not only is he a good communicator, but he has a very, very good eye and really understands design. There's no widgets, gadgets or fancy tricks there. I think it is that rare combination of talent and ability to communicate it that has made him what he is. He also has a fine collection of very jazzy socks - did you notice them?!

I see that being a good turner does not make you a good teacher.

That is so true! I have spent the last eight years studying how craft skills are taught and learned and have worked with several excellent craftsmen who are hopeless teachers because they know what they know too well and can't communicate it.

As for your money-making schemes - my feeling is that most of us are far more into it for the enjoyment than the profitability :roll:
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Postby Robin Fawcett » Wed Aug 27, 2008 8:14 pm

Nice one Gavin..
I like the picture of the 'shop' on the quayside. What are the two wooden items on the right?
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Postby robin wood » Wed Aug 27, 2008 8:42 pm

Nice one Gavin,

Look forward to seeing more. its a funny thing demonstrating pole lathe in a foreign land when you can't tell if folk are genuinely impressed or nudging each other and saying I bet he has got a big right leg. My feeling has always been that when they go ""Ah the old ways... " and then smile" that they were being really complimentary and had a genuine appreciation for the old crafts, maybe I have been kidding myself. :D

I am a big Richard Raffan fan too. Over many years he has avoided the high priced gallery scene and concentrated on a "semi-production" approach to making primarily functional objects. I have huge respect for him, his "turned bowl design" book is a masterpiece. I think possibly my favourite claim to fame is that he eats his breakfast every day (when at home) from one of my wooden bowls.

I think you are right in your assessment of your fellow turners on board and the fact that they all have well known distinctive styles, do you think that any of them set out directly to create that certain something that they are now known for? Or is it not possible that they gradualy evolved that whilst making the stuff they liked over many years? Stuart, Jimmy and Richard have 70 odd years turning experience between them they didn't get there overnight.

I think particularly in the arty wood world there is a great mass of contrived tosh made by people trying to make something new and different and not enough stuff made by folk who are making honest objects from the heart. I also think it is easy to overestimate the money that folk are making just because they put high prices on their work. The wood art market in my opinion is flooded and in decline.
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Postby gavin » Thu Aug 28, 2008 7:13 am

Robin Fawcett wrote:Nice one Gavin..
I like the picture of the 'shop' on the quayside. What are the two wooden items on the right?


Clare bought 2 more spoon-carving knives. Their sheaths were not adequate, so I asked the powered turners to quickly knock up some turned boxes with lids.

And they are the 2 wooden items on the right.
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Postby Nicola Wood » Thu Aug 28, 2008 8:48 am

What spoon carving knives did she buy? I'd like to see them ...
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Postby Andy Coates » Thu Aug 28, 2008 8:53 am

Having read a number of other reports of the cruise...some not published elsewhere...and maybe never will be...I was pleased to read yours, Gavin.

The most notable difference between yours and all the others is that yours was less concerned with the trivia...places, street scenes, lack of litter Etc. And more with the purpose of the trip...turning.

The next, and possibly equal, difference is that you clearly came away having been moved to think about what you do and why, and how you might progress what you do in some fashion. I found this quite refreshing. Surely the purpose of the cruise is to inspire and push the craft forward? It seems you may be the only one to have been so effected. Which to me speaks volumes.

Personally, I don't see a contradiction between making a profit and loving the craft you practice. And doing it for the enjoyment rather than the profitability is fine if you have another income stream to depend upon for the day-to-day monetary requirements.
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above continued...board playing up...

Postby Andy Coates » Thu Aug 28, 2008 8:58 am

the board truncated the above, and won't let me post the rest...how odd...
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Postby gavin » Thu Aug 28, 2008 10:00 am

robin wood wrote:
My feeling has always been that when they go ""Ah the old ways... " and then smile" that they were being really complimentary and had a genuine appreciation for the old crafts, maybe I have been kidding myself. .

Let us have hope that some who do pass comment are genuinely appreciative, esp at a general-interest exhibition. Remember that many of my observers had come to visit a supplier of powered, high-tech, big carbon-footprint tooling - I had a skewed sample! If you'd just walked off the ship having spent another NOK 5,000 ( or GBP 500) on a new chuck or jig or set of tools, you'd have quite a lot invested in money - and much more in ego. You'd want to feel superior to such greenwood technology that had suddenly ambushed your consciousness.

robin wood wrote:
do you think that any of them set out directly to create that certain something that they are now known for? Or is it not possible that they gradualy evolved that whilst making the stuff they liked over many years?


I think it evolved. Think of Charlie Chaplin, and I bet the image that comes to mind is baggy trousers, saggy cane, bowler hat and moustache. The photographic record shows that this emerged over about 6 or 8 years; he did not get it in one hit. He experimented and went with what worked, with the outfit that got the best response. And I am sure that all the demonstrators' styles evolved. Indeed several said they would date their pieces and sign them, so you could see where they were at a particular date.

Interestingly, Richard Raffan does sign, but does not date his pieces. He said if a gallery has an item of his dated 2002, they are likely to throw it back at him as not moving quick enough.

He gave a talk one night on bowl design, and showed pictures of several of his early pieces, including a salad bowl he'd made for his mum when starting out. He had sawn them in half, so you could see the profile. He pointed out the errors he'd made then, so he was also interested in the effect of time on his work too.

I was struck by his comment that you should saw in half some of the good bowls too. You can then see why they work!

robin wood wrote:
I think particularly in the arty wood world there is a great mass of contrived tosh made by people trying to make something new and different and not enough stuff made by folk who are making honest objects from the heart.


Some of the items I have seen in the Woodturning magazine make me wonder: "Why bother featuring that ? This is about the standard of a barely passing grade for a 15 year-old Craft Design Technology candidate, and nothing to be admired". But since I think the same thing about many things you will see in art galleries, I know I am not a sufficient judge of art for my opinion to matter a row of beans.

robin wood wrote:The wood art market in my opinion is flooded and in decline

From remarks made on the cruise, I understand the Wood art market was started by a real-estate tycoon called Mark Bolan (spelling?) who had USD 52 million a year in royalties to spend. As the US real estate business contracts, we'll see if this is a burst bubble. Some present asserted that giving your collection to a museum qualified for tax exemptions in some US states, if not in the whole US. If so, I suppose you could buy an item for 1 USD, get it valued at USD 10,000 and claim the tax break on the USD 10,000 and minimise tax on other income. (And this tax avoidance idea is purely my hypothesis) . I am NOT clear on all the details, but right through history, the rich and powerful have used art to boost their status. And I cannot see that wooden objects would be immune to that trend of reflecting glory to the owner.

robin wood wrote:in the arty wood world there is a great mass of contrived tosh made by people trying to make something new and different and not enough stuff made by folk who are making honest objects from the heart.


I quite agree. For instance, I cannot see why you would want to take bits of wood, glue them together, then turn them into a segmented bowl. But some folk love it. And if others want to buy that, who am I to say maker or seller are wrong?

Or to take a piece and part-turn it, then abrade it or carve it to produce a wall-hanging. To give it a veneer of practicality, clock-mechanisms are sold by wood-turning supply companies so you can make a clock of your creation.

I am told there are die-hards in the AWGB who maintain that if an item is painted or carved it is NOT an example of wood turning and so should not be considered. Whilst they are welcome to an opinion, the habit of taking up committee meeting time to rail against such items, and to attempt deny them a place in exhibitions or competitions does seem excessive.

I believe the best test of contrived tosh is this: Does it sell? If it does sell, I submit it is less likely to be tosh. You could argue that an item is not tosh at GBP 10 but must be tosh at GBP 10,000. This is not an argument I care to spend any time on. I would rather turn some more.

What would any of us do if we were offered GBP 10,000 for an item from our lathe - or knife? I don't think we'd be asking ourselves: "Is this tosh?"
Gavin Phillips


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