If a tree falls in the forest, artisans from the Chesapeake Woodturners could turn the natural imperfections of the wood into lasting beauty.
Members of this craft group, including Laurel residents Margaret Lospinuso and Jeff Bridges, are displaying their works in an exhibit on display this month at Montpelier Mansion. Cosponsored by the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission, the show also features outdoor woodturning demonstrations on weekends.
Chesapeake Woodturners President Doug Bartos said the club demonstrates several times a year at Montpelier Mansion for events such as the Festival of Herbs, Tea and the Arts; and Heritage Days, and Montpelier sponsors a juried show every other year.
This year's entries were judged by sculptor E. Clarke Mester Jr., a faculty member and program coordinator in the Fine and Performing Arts Department at Bowie State University.
Admission to the exhibit is free, and patrons can buy the hand-worked items on display; prices range from $50 to $1,500, with a percentage going to support Montpelier Mansion.
"This has always been a very successful and enjoyable venue for the Chesapeake Woodturners," said Bartos. "I think it does promote a community awareness of woodturning, and it gives us a unique venue to showcase our turnings in a beautiful and historic setting."
The Chesapeake Woodturners formed as a local chapter of the American Association of Woodturners in 1992. The club aims to bolster woodturning as a craft and art form; to share ideas and techniques among members; and to educate the public about woodturning. Members Joe Dickey and Chuck Engstrom teach beginning and intermediate classes at the Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts in Annapolis.
Bartos said there are presently 60 to 70 members from central Maryland, and that several — Dickey, Phil Brown and Al Hockenbery — have received national recognition. In addition to Lospinuso and Bridges, other members from Laurel are Lou Lospinuso and Charles Goedeke.
Club members Goedeke, Bridges, Bill Kost and Vice President Lou Rudinski demonstrated the club's Jet mini lathe on March 8.
Marshall Dearden, of Laurel, came to the demonstration looking for help on a project because, he said, "These older guys have forgotten more than I'm ever going to learn."
Dearden inherited his woodshop from his grandfather, and turns pens and rolling pins.
Exhibit coordinator Goedeke and his wife, Judith, said that turning the thinner pieces such as the delicate finials in the exhibit, requires the most expertise.
Woodturning is different from other forms of woodworking because the wood spins on a lathe while being cut and shaped by an artisan using stationary tools.
Judith Goedeke said that turning requires a very steady hand, and that any negative space creates a huge opportunity for the "chisel to get caught and for the piece to blow apart.
"Anytime you have an opening in the wood, there's a lot of skill involved," she said.
The Montpelier Mansion exhibit showcases an assortment of items ranging from food-safe bowls and platters to a gavel with a sounding block, a wooden sculpture, vases and other unique creations. Some are embellished with pyrography, dyes and insets.
The 85 pieces on display are made from mahogany, maple, cedar, beech, pine, ash, cherry, mulberry, walnut, mesquite, boxelder, butternut, holly, pear trees and other woods, and some have stunning patterns created by natural imperfections.
Rudinski said that distressed and diseased woods are much in demand. Spalted woods, characterized by discolorations that appear in the beginning stages of decay; and burls, which are irregular, bulging growths on trunks and roots, are popular.
A fungus caused the lovely pink and red stains in Lospinuso's "Fruits from a Different Season" and Mike Marek's "Flaming Ornament and Stand" made of boxelder.
Woods taken from trees that have come down on historic lands are also in high demand, according to Rudinski and Kost. Phil Brown used white oak from Maryland's fallen Wye Oak Tree (which stood for more than 400 years in the village of Wye Mills) to create "Wye Oak Vessel."
Two other pieces, Gene Adcock's "Smiling Cedar" and Lospinuso's "Montpelier," were made from the wood of trees that once stood on the Montpelier Mansion grounds.
Peter Madden submitted "Un-Bee-Lieveable," a decorative platter made from a gazebo destroyed by carpenter bees. And Bartos created a platter from his mother-inlaw's Ethan Allen coffee table.
"It's kind of magical if you ever see them working, the way it just comes to life," said Patricia Bowden, an artist-in-residence at the Montpelier Arts Center who attended the exhibit March 8.
Mei Yu Green once taught Bridges in a Chinese brush painting class and came to the exhibit specifically to see his work. Although Bridges said Chinese brush painting didn't turn out to be "his thing," he and Green are talking about collaborating on a project in the future.
"He does a lot of very nice work," said Green.
Club member Kost agreed. "Jeff is one of our best turners," he said.
The Chesapeake Woodturners exhibit continues through March 31 at Montpelier Mansion, 9650 Muirkirk Road. Exhibit hours are 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. (closed on Wednesdays). Admission is free. Woodturning demonstrations on weekends, weather permitting; call (301) 377-7817, TTY (301) 699-2544 to confirm.
First place: Margaret Lospinuso, "Bowl of Fruit," boxelder, milk paint, dye. ($480)
Second place: Ted Michalek, "Pot with Holly Leaves," holly. (not for sale)
Third place: Tim Moore, "Carved Hollow Form," cherry. ($1,200)
Juror's choice: Jeannie Rudinski-Ureno, "Frog," maple, dye, pyrography. ($150)
Juror's choice: Jeff Bridges, "Hollow Form Vase," cedar. ($165)