Jacques of all trades

Would you believe this was made from a single piece of wood?

Image from Alain Mailland's website, http://mailland.fr/

Image from Alain Mailland's website, http://mailland.fr/

What about this?

Image from Alain Mailland's website, http://mailland.fr/

Image from Alain Mailland's website, http://mailland.fr/

Amazing, right? I spent Saturday watching French artist Alain Mailland demonstrate his techniques and I'll tell you, as hard a time as I have sitting still in a one-hour meeting, I could have watched him work for another two days. I was mesmerized.

I signed up for the demo (put on by the Chicago Woodturners, of which I'm a member) based purely on my attraction to his organic forms and curiosity about how he *does* it. By the end of the day, he'd been firmly installed in my gallery of creative heroes.

He says that he doesn't "work wood," that he "works with wood." He turns, carves, textures, bends, and finishes his pieces, but Mailland leaves a certain degree of the final form up to the wood itself, to the movement of the wood as it dries. It's an intimate connection to the material that I share; any piece of wood was, after all, once a living thing, and wood continues to move and change long after it stops being a tree.

High-falutin' artistic kinship aside, he's also a craftperson's craftsperson. A former professional carpenter and mason, he's used to, in Tim Gunn parlance, making it work. When he couldn't find turning chisels suited to the cuts he wanted to make, he learned to forge so he could make them himself, right there in his shop. He's got a lathe built with an auto transmission to get the power he needed for his larger pieces. (I looked all over the interwebs for a picture of his monster-truck lathe to show you, but came up empty. Trust me, it's a beautiful beast.)

I left the demo and spent an hour sketching. While I'm not turning to sculpture anytime soon, I found so much inspiration not only in the form of Mailland's work, but in his approach, philosophy, and techniques. See if you can spot a bit of his influence as I introduce new pieces later this summer.

A flower Mailland rough-turned from a single tree root at the demo. Can you tell he also grows bonsai?

A flower Mailland rough-turned from a single tree root at the demo. Can you tell he also grows bonsai?