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Turning Around: Wood Art by John Chapman and Kim Fifer

May 8, 2018 – July 29, 2018

Organized by the Arkansas Arts Center

In Turning Around: Wood Art by John Chapman and Kim Fifer, Arkansas Arts Center Museum School Woodworking instructors John Chapman and Kim Fifer explore the challenges and joys of woodturning.

John ChapmanI have never looked myself in the mirror and said, “Hey, I’m an artist!” I consider myself more of a technician in search of a project. My love for Mathematics naturally turned into a Computer Science degree. Some might think that has little to do with woodworking, but I find my time spent on segmented woodturning projects is equally divided between designing on the computer, cutting at the table saw, gluing on the bench, and turning at the lathe.

When people view my works, “Fascinating!” or “How’d he do that?” are my favorite reactions. I shared the same thoughts the first time I saw a segmented woodturned object. The fact that the technique was complex, mysterious, and well beyond my abilities fueled my desire to try it. To this day, my projects hold fascination and surprise to me. A piece from four years ago prompts me to think, “I don’t remember using that much zebrawood.”

Woodturners often use small pieces of wood, which allows us the opportunity to use rare wood species that would be cost prohibitive (or simply unavailable) for larger projects. This is particularly true of segmented turning. For example, Encoded and Decoded use nine different wood species. Each vessel has nearly 1600 individual pieces of wood. An examination of small details evokes its own reaction. While viewing the piece in its entirety provides a wholly different experience…in both cases, “movement.” In contrast, Om uses only Cedar, mostly from one board. This project was fun simply because I re-imagined a new “whole,” different than the one originally presented me.

The simple joy of teaching penmaking provides a stark contrast to the tedious complexity of my segmented work. Students who have never set foot in a wood shop leave a few hours later having made beautiful, functional works of art. Guiding them through the discovery of this fascinating process is why I love teaching at the Arkansas Arts Center.

John Chapman

Woodworking Instructor
Arkansas Arts Center Museum School

E. Kim FiferI was first introduced to woodworking at 12 years old, by my grandfather. Together, we built a lab bench for conducting chemistry experiments. My interest in woodworking continued to grow, sometimes out of necessity. By 1973, I was recently married, had no money, yet needed furniture. I began collecting tools. By 1986, I found myself teaching medicinal chemistry at West Virginia University. Not knowing many people, I began producing furniture in our garage in my spare time. In 1987 I bought a used lathe in order to turn parts for furniture. After we moved to Little Rock in 1989, a friend suggested that we take a woodturning class at the Arkansas Arts Center. I was hesitant, because I was afraid that it would become addicting. It was! About a decade later, I began teaching woodturning classes at the Arts Center.

Teaching at the Arts Center has been a very rewarding experience. I have met people from all walks of life, and some have become close personal friends. It is especially rewarding to see that some have become accomplished wood turners. One student that I particularly remember was visiting from Puerto Rico. When she returned, she bought a lathe, began turning and was accepted as a member of a craftsman’s guild on the island. Unfortunately, I have not heard from her since the hurricane.

My woodturnings are mostly from native hardwoods that have been downed by storms or recovered from urban tree services. I tell people that my lathe is a cheap psychologist, because producing items in wood, whether furniture, salad bowls or “turned” art, gives me a feeling of accomplishment that few will experience in today’s busy world. When finished, you actually see the fruits of your effort. The product of this effort can be held in your hands, passed on to future generations, or, in some cases, placed in the fireplace to lower your home heating bill. At this time, I consider myself a “maker”. I enjoy producing enclosed forms that echo a Southwestern, Native American theme. I also turn furniture parts, items for the kitchen, platters, mortar and pestles, and occasionally do architectural turnings.

E. Kim Fifer

Woodworking Instructor
Arkansas Arts Center Museum School

Featured Work from the Exhibition

John Chapman

Segmented Torus and Display Base of 1547 pieces of Cherry, African Mahogany, Curly Maple, Walnut, Zebrawood, Purpleheart, Wenge, Osage Orange, Holly; finished with Tung Oil and Carnauba Wax
Image courtesy of the artist

Kim Fifer

Natures Art
Maple (with Ambrosia streaks)
Image courtesy of the artist

Kim Fifer

The Grind
Image courtesy of the artist

Hours: Tues - Sat 10 AM - 5 PM | Sun 11 AM - 5 PM      Address: 9th & Commerce / MacArthur Park, P.O. Box 2137, Little Rock, Arkansas 72203-2137      Phone: 501.372.4000

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