For 15 years, Blackfoot’s Jim Curlee has been practicing wood turning, the art of designing and building artistic bowls, vases, urns and hollow forms as well as user bowls, such as salad and fruit bowls. Some salad bowls measure 16 to 18 inches.
“I can make large bowls or smaller bowls; whatever people request,” Curlee said.
“Like most wood turners, I started out using solid pieces of wood,” he said. “I soon discovered that large, highly figured pieces of wood were hard to find and very expensive when you did find them.
“I turned my focus to segmented turning,” Curlee said. “This process involves gluing many pieces of wood together in the form of a ring. Many rings are stacked and glued together in the form of a ring.
“Many rings are stacked and glued together; then I mount the glued up assembly on the lathe and turn it to its finished shape,” he said. “Segmented turning offers the luxury of no limitation to shape, size or design like you find when turning solid pieces of wood."
Depending on the shape, size and complexity of design, it takes anywhere from a few weeks to several months to complete a turning, Curlee said.
His turnings are made from as few as 75 pieces to well over 600 individual pieces of wood with the size of the pieces ranging from a few inches to a few feet.
“I work in a series,” Curlee said. “I start with the big pieces and then make my smaller pieces from what’s left over.”
The open segment turnings are the ones with a gap between each piece of wood, he said.
“The geometric designs and shapes of early Native American pottery work very well in segmented turning and are a large influence in my work,” Curlee said. “I am also influenced by early Greek and Asian designs.
“In the open segment process, I glue each individual piece of wood onto the turning one piece at a time,” Curlee said. “Often these pieces of wood are so small I use a toothpick to apply the glue.”
Curlee uses wood from all over the world. His pieces are made from domestic hardwoods as well as woods from Africa and South America. The woods are chosen based on color and stability.
“All the woods I use are from sustainable forests and tree farms,” Curlee said.
The wood also sits in his shop at least two years before he uses it in a turning.
Curlee started his hobby by reading woodworking books.
“My advice to new woodworkers is ‘be patient,’” he said. “Measure as accurately as you can and don’t get discouraged.
“Wood turning helps me keep my sanity,” Curlee said. “It’s a stress reliever.”
Curlee said the first time he sold his product was in California. “It was so hard to depart from it.”
His work is for sale at the Artistic Spirit Gallery in Blackfoot.
Curlee and his wife, Velma, have two children—Casey, age 19, and Justin, age 16.