Programme for creative woodturning

2008-07-01 00:00

FROM Friday to Sunday Pietermaritzburg will be filled with people who are fascinated by wood and who work with it, creating beautiful objects. The annual Congress of the Association of Woodturners of South Africa (AWSA) is being held at the Centre for Visual Arts on the local university campus, hosted by the Natal Midlands Woodworkers Guild.

There will be lectures and demonstrations and an “instant gallery” where the approximately 80 woodturners from all over South Africa —and beyond — will be exhibiting and, in some cases, selling their work which will range from enormous and very valuable pieces to tiny little things, and from the purely decorative to the functional.

The congress follows the exhibition the Natal Midlands Woodworkers Guild held last December in the Jack Heath Gallery. It is a sign of the growing interest in woodturning that two events have been hosted here in less than a year — and Pietermaritzburg will host the national congress again next year. “It should be much easier the second time around,” says Clyde Neumann of the organising committee.

During the Friday and Saturday of the congress there will be talks and demonstrations designed to appeal to everyone from advanced and full-time artists to beginners and hobbyists. Members of the public may register to attend particular sessions that interest them.

There will also be commercial stalls selling woodworking and woodturning equipment as well as some very special indigenous woods ready to be turned.

So who turns wood? Neumann, himself a retired engineer, says that they have a wide variety of members — men and women. John Wessels, one of South Africa’s top woodturners, is a retired airline pilot, while others are environmentalists, doctors or lawyers. One of the guest speakers is Nick Arnull from Britain whose decorated pieces can sell for as much as R50 000.

The attraction of the art, says Neumann, is that, unlike cabinet-making where a piece can take a month or two to complete, a bowl can be turned in a day or two. “And there is more room for artistic input,” he says.

He explains that woodturning has moved beyond the “round and brown” that people used to produce, to pieces that are embellished and textured, and imperfections in the wood — intrusions of bark, blemishes or holes — can be incorporated as integral features.

“In medieval times wooden bowls and plates were utilitarian. Painting and sculpture was always accepted as art, but it has taken a long time for wood,” says Neumann. “Up until the fifties there was no such thing as “wood art” — it was all functional. And in South Africa there is still the view that if you can’t put biltong, chips or peanuts in it, it’s no good.”

But since the late seventies, creative woodturning has grown all over the world and has taken its place as art. During the Friday and Saturday of the AWSA congress the Jack Heath Gallery will be open from 9 am to 5 pm so that the public can see what woodturners can do with wood — and how they release the full beauty of the raw material.

• For the congress programme visit For more information, phone Clyde Neumann at 033 343 4433 or 082 413 0020.

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