Once in a while you have the good fortune to meet someone who is truly outstanding in what they do. I had known about Fred Williamson for many years. I did not include pictures in this post as Fred’s site is filled with them and better you visit it directly.
He had been commissioned by my brother-in-law about 10 years ago to make something from a maple burl he had cut from a tree on his property near Charlottesville. Fred had fashioned a hollow vessel that was quite attractive. I was told that he lived not too far away in a hollow on the east side of the Blue Ridge Mountains about 20 minutes away from Crozet, Virginia.
About three years ago I applied to show my work in the Crozet Arts and Crafts Festival in Crozet. Fred Williamson, who had been exhibiting in that show for many years was there and briefly came by my booth. Since I tend to work these shows by myself, I only took a moment away from my booth to look at his work. They were open formed, thin, natural edged bowls made of large bolts of wood.
The next year I did the show in Crozet I had some help so I looked at his work more carefully. By this time I had started to do natural edged bowls myself and was really ready to see what I needed to learn. I had been troubled with end grain tear out and no matter how much I sanded, the oil finish always revealed a darker unsightly area where the fiber damage was.
Two women came by my booth at that show and one of them seemed to be really interested in one of my new natural edge bowls. Her friend tugged at her sleeve and motioned that she needed to check out another vendor. So they headed towards Fred’s booth. By this time, Fred’s work really had my attention. That evening I attended a reception for the artists sponsored by the show. I approached Fred and asked him if I might visit his shop to address the problem I was having. Fred said that he does not teach but he would be willing to help me with the issue.
One January day in 2010 we met at his shop. What I learned exceeded all my expectations. Fred had honed his techniques through many years of constant practice. Yet what I learned transcended technique. Fred was able to see ideal curves in his mind’s eye. He used his technical skill to allow those curves to flow into the wooden vessel.
Every time my clumsy technique would destroy an ideal curve he had created, he would recreate the curve. If I damaged it badly he would create another slightly different but no less ideal curve. He simply could see the ideal curve and made the wood conform to it.
Now this might not sound so impressive to you but any great turner or any kind of artist will say over and over that design is the most crucial part of any artistic endeavor. Technique is important to be able to express the ideal form, yet it does not create the ideal form. Attractive patterns and colors enhance the ideal form but if they are applied to a poor form then the result is poor.
This ideal form is something that cannot be taught by watching someone else work. Technique may be great and material truly outstanding but the inadequate form will make the piece of little value and it will not endure.
Ideal form is a transcendental or absolute value. It comes from nature itself and can be cognized by human awareness. Some come by this naturally by birth. You have often heard it said that he or she “was a natural artist just born with the gift.” For others, it can be acquired by techniques which put you in contact with the laws of nature on a regular basis until you see them as Fred sees them. Without birth or technique, accessing this knowledge will be rather fruitless.
Fred was very patient in addressing my poor techniques, and now all I have to do is to practice over and over until I get them down. This process can take years. Yet, what I learned from Fred was a lesson far more valuable. I learned to look for the ideal curve even as I eyed the rough bolt of wood. I learned to lay out the blank for rough sawing, keeping the ideal curve contained within well in mind. I learned to rough out the blank so that my ideal curve could emerge fully.
So, if you are a serious bowl collector you should give Fred Williamson’s site (www.fredwilliamson.com) a thorough visit. If you are not a serious bowl collector, perhaps you should consider becoming one. I can assure you that looking at those ideal curves skillfully created out of beautiful woods will bring you pleasure and make you feel uplifted every time your eye falls on one of his creations.
I just had to include a couple of pictures of the finished product of that lesson.
If you are a bowl turner like myself you will find a wealth of technical information that Fred has so generously shared in his Methods of Work section. Either as a collector or as a craftsman, you owe it to yourself to visit his site and become acquainted with the art and craft of Fred Williamson, Virginia Bowl Turner.