It’s a pleasant winter afternoon in a very busy Seattle neighborhood. I am lucky to find parking across the street from a typical industrial building, one that could be offices or upscale apartments if it weren't for the familiar hum and whine of a large table saw emanating from inside. In this building, several different woodworkers rent workspace, with communal use of some of the more industrial equipment.
Joel Shepard at his work table.
Here I am welcomed with a friendly greeting from John Shrader who soon introduces me to Joel Shepard. Both are Fine Wood Artists members who rent shop space in this building. Joel is bent over his worktable, carefully taping together impossibly thin sheets of veneer for a box. His space is organized, yet full of plans, half finished projects, and inspiration. Several old chairs wait for restoration on one side, and under a blanket, a designer's desk with a unique poured resin top. The box Joel is working will incorporate a beautiful piece of spalted maple. I can tell from the plans it is going to be a real show piece once finished, but he says it's a present, not something he will sell.
Joel is an adaptable and multi disciplined woodworker. He will work with both individuals and designers to create new furniture, but he also repairs and restores antique pieces, and currently on his plate is the restoration of a Japanese lacquered chest. Like many woodworkers in the Pacific Northwest, Joel is influenced by classic Japanese furniture design. He also is very capable of creating his own unique pieces. "I enjoy working with designers and from my own designs," he says, “they both have their challenges, and working with someone else’s vision... brings in new ideas to my own work."
After greeting some of the other woodworkers who share the shop, we come to John's corner studio. Every inch of John's space is filled with wood, tools and his unique segmented bowls in various states of completion. He tells me there are over 60 bowls currently in progress. Though small, each part of his space is utilized efficiently. Unceremoniously in the center of his space is his variable speed lathe with a rough turned bowl waiting for the next stage.
Next to his cleverly improvised spray booth and drying cabinet is an organized stack of different exotic and hardwood boards that would make any woodworker envious. Unlike most turners, John doesn't often work from a solid block of wood; rather he takes flat boards, and using a method he perfected, carefully cuts them, layers them, glues then turns them. This method actually uses the wood very efficiently, and since it doesn't require starting from a large block, it allows him to use woods that aren't often used for larger turnings such as wenge and ebony. Each board is quarter and angle cut in circular strips, then stacked in such a way to create a pleasing pattern in the grain of the finished bowl. Some of the pieces he bleaches or sandblasts to accentuate this pattern, and for some he adds a band of silver or brass along the rim. Many of these bowls are finished with a high gloss lacquer almost like glass, and they are all turned perfectly thin.
On the wall above his tool cabinet are images of pieces from his sea series. These award winning, delicately pierced vessels are somewhere between science and art. He tells me the pleasure of being at a show and having someone recognize his inspiration for the series, tiny microscopic radiolarians that are found in the ocean.
Normally John doesn't have so many bowls in progress, but with a big show coming up (Best of the Northwest in Seattle, Magnuson Park, March 27 & 28), and having sold well over the Holidays he is looking to get ahead. He spends most afternoons in the shop, working on his unique and beautiful creations.
“My goal is to make enough to show a profit on my taxes" he says jokingly. In reality, he turns for the same reason most woodworkers do, for the joy of creating something beautiful from wood.
More work by John Shrader can be seen in his gallery-
Best of the Northwest Show information-
More of Joel Shephard's work can be seen in his gallery-
If you are interested in purchasing work by either artist, please contact them from more information.