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A New Wheel Takes Shape

March 22, 2013

Raven head

As an artist and craftsman I find a lot of satisfaction in making things that are beautiful and in many cases function well.  But I also know that there is a great deal of pleasure in the process.  Setting myself up with a problem and slowly working things to a satisfying conclusion is the way I spend my days.  When a work is finished I am happy to have it displayed or used by others.  But usually I am the sole beneficiary of the many steps along the way.

I just made a head/handle for a new spinning wheel and thought it might be fun to share this with whoever is interested.  Someday soon it will be finished and hopefully someone will fall in love with it and want to have it.  I’ll sell the wheel but keep the memories and lessons it has given me.  If you are interested, here’s what has happened so far….

We just finished a wheel for a wonderful lady from New Hampshire.  She travels a lot to the British Isles and wanted a wheel to remind her of those adventures.  We talked about possibilities and decided to have and Icelandic Ram’s head function as the handle.  I did a lot of research and ultimately a ram evolved out of a few pieces of walnut, some epoxy, and a little paint.  It was almost scary to push beyond my comfort zone and commit to something I didn’t know if I could actually do.  Slowly and surely the ram came to life and brought me and my family a lot of pleasure. He was named Duncan Macleod by his new keeper and he left our fold today in a big plywood crate.  Bittersweet.

As I worked on Duncan I realized that there is no limit to the things that can be incorporated into our wheel design.  I have produced a lot of art over the years that was inspired by Northwest Coast native traditions and legends.  I loved to explore the forms and learned a lot about the art and history of the people of this rich, beautiful coast.  One thing that always interested me was how a design of any creature could be made to fit a given space.  For instance, an eagle design could grace a totem pole, a spoon, a button blanket, or crest hat.  A knowledgeable viewer would recognize it as an eagle by the specific stylized features used over and over again by artists for thousands of years.  I realized that our spinning wheels are a perfect place upon which to display these creatures.  I love ravens and so my first attempt is a raven wheel.

I was over at some friends’ house the other day.  They have quite a collection of contemporary Northwest Coast art (mine included!).  I admired masks and carvings and other items.  One thing I noticed with the carvings was that every one looked clean and fresh and like it had been made yesterday.  They were beautiful of course.  But in my studies I have always gravitated to the old pieces.  Carved by unknown hands, weathered and worn by centuries of use, shrouded in patinas no artist could consciously create, these artifacts glow with mystery and secrets.  So that became the guiding principle for this raven wheel.  Rather than make it look brand new, I want it to look as if it has always been.  Even though it is made from foreign woods, steel, brass, nylon, epoxy and aluminum, I want the raven to overshadow the modern media and have a serene and complete and timeless life of its own.

The head is about finished now and I like it a lot.  The abalone shell in the inlaid eyes and the disc held in the beak add a classic splash of wild exotic color to the subdued tones of the wood.  It is walnut (my favorite wheel wood) and yet the finish makes it into anything you want it to be.  I applied wax after varnish and though it doesn’t change the appearance much, it changes the feel.  I can hardly keep my hands off it!  That’s the way a handle should be and I think I have touched on a concept so important to the old unknown masters.  I don’t remember actually creating ANY Northwest Coast art that had to work in the real world.  All it had to do was look pretty.  Well this handle will work!

While I have a lot of other ideas, the rest of the wheel will begin to dictate its own design.  If you are interested, I’ll be writing more about this wheel.


From → Gary's Thoughts

  1. Nice… from a Raven, living in Sitka, AK
    I Spin Mountain Goat wool for my traditional Raven’s Tail Robes, a Tlingit method of creating Robes and Regalia

    • Thanks,Teri. A quick look at your site reveals that you are a very accomplished artist! I will enjoy looking some more. I lived in Sitka back in the ’70’s. Beautiful place and very inspiring.

  2. Karen Bruggman permalink

    Hi Gary, I want a rabbit on my wheel or a dragonfly. Can you do that? I have an idea of what I want it to look like. I will draw it out and send it to you. I am ready. Want to come over and see you and pick out wood.
    Karen Bruggman

    • Hi Karen, Glad to hear from you. I will be happy to work with you on either idea. A drawing would be great. You can e-mail me a photo or I can send you our home address if you want to send the actual drawing. You are very welcome in our neck of the woods. I have a cold right now so give me a few days to recover. Edensaw is open every day but Sunday. Thanks, Gary

  3. You are amazing. You know how I love and am also inspired by the north coastal art. Unfortunately Cecile would not find any humor in a raven moving in. Keep going. We will watch from Oregon and cheer you on.

    • Hi Laurie, We always love hearing from you and Cecile. A dragon and a raven might be a bit tricky – like bringing another cat home to meet the well established cats in residence. I’ll keep plugging along with all the encouragement, and keep putting up photos of progress. Perhaps if you plant little hints in Cecile’s ear as you spin….Gary

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