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October 19, 2012
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Going against the grain

Enter the conference rooms of Horizon Casino Resort this weekend and you'll find yourself immersed in the world of segmented wood turning. Collectors, authors, presenters, artists and visitors roamed the halls on Friday to admire and learn about one of the world's lesser known art forms during the Segmented Woodturners third symposium.

"It's kind of obscure. We have people here who are just very passionate about segmented wood turning," Segmented Woodturners President Malcolm Tibbetts said.

If wood turning is a niche hobby, segmented wood turning could be considered a mere cubbyhole in the woodworking industry. Tibbetts helped form Segmented Woodturners, a chapter of the American Association of Woodturners, in 2009 and the group now has about 400 members worldwide.

According to Tibbetts, who left a management career at Heavenly Ski Resort 10 years ago to start woodworking full time, segmented wood turning is much more challenging than traditional wood turning. Instead of clamping a chunk of wood onto a lathe and hollowing out the center, segmented wood turners first cut and glue small pieces of wood together to form rings that the turner pastes together to create a bowl. Only then does the artist begin to turn the piece.

"Wood turning is just taking a piece of wood and turning it into a bowl. Segmented wood turning is more related to lumber and assembly," Tibbetts said.

Since Segmented Woodturners is an online AAW chapter, the members only get together once every two years for the symposiums. Previously the group had met in Indiana and Tennessee for the events that include live demonstrations and art galleries, but this year Tibbetts decided to bring the segmented wood turners to his hometown.

Many of the 215 people who traveled to the South Shore for the symposium are the top segmented wood turners in the world. Take Mike Shuler. The California-based artist created the priciest pieces shown in Friday's gallery - a delicate rosewood bowl boasted a $9,500 price tag - and his work is world renowned. In 1993, officials in the Clinton administration picked one of Shuler's bowls for a 75-piece display in the White House.

And then there's Tibbetts, who wrote one of the principal books on segmented wood turning, "The Art of Segmented Wood Turning," and whom collector Dave Long describes as a game changer.

In the gallery on Friday, only a close look at some of Tibbetts' pieces indicated their original bowl-like shape. A sleek, black loop meant to represent the rover Curiosity's landing on Mars stood next to a curly piece that looked like a looped slinky attached end-to-end called "Global Spring."

"Malcolm revolutionized the wood turning world. He stared using segmented wood in a different direction, and it made people look at segmenting in a different light. He's one of the few guys that would start making a bowl and then turn the wood in another direction," Long said.

Long's collected about 200 pieces of wood-turning art in the past two decades, and he said that the natural feel and look of the art is what appeals to him.

"It appeals to people who collect because of the organic feel of the wood. Of all the crafts, it has the most natural feel," he said.

For Steven Romo, an amateur segmented wood turner and symposium participant, the art form represents a release from everyday worries. Romo, who works as an information technology manager for health care reform, started segmented wood turning seven years ago as relief from his full-time job.

"I find that segmented wood turning is a release. You forget about all your problems because it requires such extreme focus," Romo said.


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Tahoe Daily Tribune Updated Oct 19, 2012 07:50PM Published Oct 19, 2012 07:48PM Copyright 2012 Tahoe Daily Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.