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Interview with Wood Artist: Gaius "Doc" Hanawalt
April 16, 2008 - Emily Dimov-Gottshall
Interview with Gaius "Doc" Hanawalt.
EDG: When and how did you first become interested in art?
GDH: As a child our home was filled with art. My mother was an artist and encouraged us to try our hands at everything. I can’t remember a Christmas when I did not get some kind of art-related gift. Two of my siblings are currently art teachers. My father made custom gunstocks as a sideline. Many of his guns were works of art. When I was a teen, he taught me to carve, and how to apply a hand rubbed oil finish. My wife (Cathy) has an interest (and talent) in art and we have spent many hours of vacation time in art museums. I particularly like religious art, and I feel that you can see the formation/evolution of religious doctrines by observing the art from different centuries.
EDG: How long have you been doing woodworking?
GDH: I started sometime in the late '50’s to early '60’s. School friends and I made sling shots out of plywood in my father’s workshop. I was always making things from plans I found in Popular Science and Popular Mechanics magazines that I bought with my paper route money. About that time a friend taught me how to use an old lathe we had in our basement. In 2000 I built a large workshop, and shortly after finishing it I started turning full time.
EDG: What are your art influences?
GDH: My wife and I like Southwestern pottery and baskets. We have a small collection from various trips west. Hopi Indian and Navaho bowls, baskets, and vases probably have the greatest influence on the shapes I use today. I also like shapes from Rome and Greece.
EDG: What else do you do besides wood turning?
GDH: I do custom database programming, web pages, and consulting. I also like sailing.
EDG: Why did you decide to create wood vases with ancient temple designs?
GDH: I have had an interest in history and religion since I was a boy. A while back, I was watching a program about ancient temples and saw the image of the circle inside of a square. They explained that the symbol represents the earth in the universe. I was intrigued and decided to use that idea in one of my pieces. See Solomon’s Vessel. Even though I took quite a bit of liberty with it, I have had several people recognize the symbol.
EDG: What do you think your wood turnings are trying to convey?
GDH: Although I use some historic religious symbols as inspiration, I do not feel there is any hidden message in my work. I just try to create pieces that I think are beautiful and hope others will enjoy them. Many of the Hopi or Navaho Indian pieces I have used for inspiration have interesting religions stories behind them.
EDG: Do you have a special piece?
GDH: Sure, but it keeps changing as I create new pieces. I like Solomon’s Vessel. When I finished it I felt it was the best piece I had ever done. I also like the pieces with turquoise feature rings.
EDG: What is it about your art that makes it different than the other artworks?
GDH: Segmented work is very tedious work. All dimensions are measured in thousands of an inch. I use micrometers and dial calipers for measuring. The angles must be very accurate in order to avoid gaps. Gaps make a section unusable.
I try to get the finish inside as good as outside. That presents a challenge on a tall piece with a small opening. Getting hundreds of angled pieces to fit together without errors is very difficult, it takes patience. From design to finish sometimes takes months.
In high school I never though I would ever use trigonometry. I could not have been more wrong. Every bowl has to have the angles and lengths of each piece calculated before a cut is made.
EDG: What makes this kind of sculpture "good" to you?
GDH: I have had a love for wood since I was a young boy. I love taking wood that is already beautiful and trying to use it in a way that enhances its beauty and provides a way to show it off. Segmented turning lets me use geometric patterns and designs in my work. By using different colored woods, the possibilities are endless. As I make a piece, I often get ideas for the next. To me a good piece is pleasing to the eye, and is constructed without flaw. That means all the joints are perfectly tight, with no gaps.
EDG: Why did you choose to create vases/bowl/art pieces in this style?
GDH: Since people have been making bowls and vases for many centuries, I doubt that I am likely to come up with a shape that is new. So calling one piece bowls and vases original may be a risky. Segmented work gives me more leeway than any other type of turning, because I can use a range of color and textures, and add in stone or other materials, I feel I can be more creative and I can look you in the eye when I say they are original.
I continue to try to come up with better (more accurate and faster) ways to cut the segments. At my 12 -14 finished pieces a year production limit, I struggle to keep up with demand. I am looking for ways to increase that production. I am currently working on replacing all my wooden fixtures with more stable metal ones. Eventually I would like to drop all the other type work and do segmented and laminated bowls and vases exclusively.
You can view more of Hanawalt's work at his website. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org