That was three years ago and since then Michael Alguire of Socorro has not only quit the habit, but he’s adopted a new one, creating award winning works of art out of wood.
At the New Mexico State Fair Alguire took home three first place ribbons, two second place ribbons as well as the coveted Best of Show prize.
“The Best of Show was made out of rimu, a wood from New Zealand,” he said. “I turned it, making a bowl, then cut in half and glued the edges of two halves back together.”
One of his second place pieces was a personal favorite, with an interesting back story.
“It was a piece of wood from the big Gasquet Complex fire in California last year,” he said. “My brother-in-law was a firefighter there and found it for me because its burned features looked interesting.”
Alguire took it and made a vase from it, leaving the charred edges.
“I will give it back to him as a commemorative piece,” he said.
This is the second year his work has been displayed at the New Mexico State Fair. In 2014 he won second place in the Turned Items Class in the judged categories of Woodturning.
Alguire, a lifelong native New Mexican and Socorro High School alumnus, began his wood turning hobby in 2013 with making pens and small wooden ornaments.
“It was my way to keep from smoking cigarettes,” he said. “I would get so involved with the wood I’d basically forget to light up.”
His passion has grown and his art has flourished to intricate wood turned hollow forms, including bowls, vases and abstract art pieces.
He credits fellow wood turner Jim Ellwood for inspiring him to become a wood turner and invest some five thousand dollars in equipment. “He and Jim McLain are my mentors,” Alguire said.
With no formal training in the fine arts field, his creativity comes from within. His inspiration comes simply from seeing a piece of wood in its raw state and imaging the possibilities.
His day job at the Very Large Array has helped him understand the mechanical aspects of his art.
“Being a machinist at the VLA helped me understand the principle of tools, how to approach sharp edges, how machines work,” he said. “For instance, at the VLA I can take a raw piece of aluminum and turn it into something functional for the radio telescope dishes. Now it’s the same with wood. I can make something out of it, whether something useful like a bowl, cup, goblet, or a decorative piece of art.”
He can produce simpler pieces in only three-to-four hours, and up to eight hours, but the more complicated projects take much longer, requiring detailed embellishments, such as his blue ribbon pieces.
“The more embellishments, the longer it takes, anywhere from 40 to 180 hours to complete,” he said.
Some of Alguire’s pieces are sought by art lovers for up to $2,500 for the more intricate pieces.
“You wouldn’t want to put flowers in those,” he said. “They’re not practical as vases, but more as art to be displayed in a home.”
In the last three years Alguire estimates he’s produced between 400 and 500 pieces. He admits wood turning has become his favorite thing to do in his off-time, even to the point he hasn’t turned on a TV for three years.
“I don’t have time for anything else, except my children and wife Patricia, who’s been very supportive,” he said. “She tells me to go for it.”
Alguire’s original works can be seen at Genuine Southwest Art & Gifts in Old Town in Albuquerque at 1919 Old Town Road, and his Facebook page MA Customs.