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Woodturning News: General News

CHESTERFIELD OBSERVER: After diagnosis, local artist finds salvation in wood (10/18/2017)

Friday, October 20, 2017   (0 Comments)
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Lying awake in bed four years ago, Steve Stover was in pain. A chronic sufferer of kidney stones – including a bout when he had stones in both kidneys simultaneously – Stover thought he knew the source of the stabbing discomfort in his lower back.

“I went to sleep that night thinking I had a kidney stone,” says the longtime Brandermill resident. “There was no stone.”

Instead, Stover was feeling the effects of multiple degenerative disc disease, a condition that gradually thins and deteriorates the shock-absorbing discs between the vertebrae of his spine.

“Basically, I have six herniated discs in my back,” Stover says, adding that he also suffers from pinched nerves and stenosis, the narrowing of open spaces along his spine. No surgery can fix Stover’s conditions. Through multiple doctors, nerve ablations and 40 epidural steroid injections, the pain has remained. The constant pain means Stover is only active two to three hours a day. Traveling is an ordeal because of the long periods of sitting.

Three things make the agony bearable: a spinal cord stimulator that sends a low electric current through his back, heavy-duty painkillers and making art out of wood.

Stover calls the latter his salvation: turning large hunks of reclaimed lumber into polished, museum-worthy pieces of art in his backyard workshop keeps him going. Through his craftsmanship, wood from pecan, cherry, maple and elm trees is reborn as sculptures, urns, bowls, vases, pepper mills and ring boxes.

Woodworking comes naturally to Stover; both his father and grandfather were master gunsmiths in rural Pennsylvania. Stover learned the ways of the grain from them, but largely stopped woodworking after their deaths when he was a young man.

Though he can’t remember what inspired him to buy his first lathe – a large tool that allows for speedy cutting, sanding and drilling of wood and metal – Stover quickly became proficient at using it. To create his pieces, he spins wood on the lathe, cutting into it with large chisels called gouges. For ease and accuracy, the gouge is supported underneath by a tool rest. After each piece is cut, it is sanded, polished and sometimes stained. Some pieces he’ll work on for six months to a year before they’re finished.

Regarding the development of each piece, Stover says the outcome is often determined by the wood itself.

“You can’t force it,” he says. “The log is actually going to become what it is going to be.”

Stover says he’s lucky to have bought the lathe and learned how to use it when he did; less than a year after he purchased it in 2012, he began having issues with his back.

“This has been very trying, extremely expensive,” he says of his illness. “I could have had a Ferrari.”

Throughout his ordeal, woodworking has brought Stover something to focus on, and he contends there isn’t a woodturning video on YouTube that he hasn’t watched. Surrounded by his wares on his kitchen table, he doesn’t mince words about how important woodworking is to him.

“If it wasn’t for this, I’d be in one of these urns,” he says.

Gina, Steve’s wife of nearly 37 years, says they try to make the best of each day, and she enjoys seeing her husband reap the therapeutic benefits from woodworking.

“This is what keeps him sane,” Gina says. “It’s … a great outlet for him to deal with things, and it gives him great pleasure.”

In just a few short years, Stover’s work has already drawn admirers from across the globe, including buyers in Australia, Hong Kong and Germany.

“I haven’t hit every state in the United States, but I’m real close,” he says.

One fan is fellow Brandermill resident Gail Evins, who’s purchased a pepper mill and six ring boxes from Stover. She purchased the ring boxes for herself, her four daughters and her daughter-in-law. All six are made from the tropical hardwood cocobolo and include a turquoise inlay. Underneath the lid, Stover included the corresponding birthstone for each person.

“[I had] been following his work, and on Facebook I saw a couple pieces he had done. I wanted them really bad,” Evins says. “He’s very meticulous on the production of his pieces. He takes a lot of pride, obviously, in his work, and they’re all just unique pieces.”

Evins is impressed by Stover’s attitude in the face of hardship.

“There’s very few negative things that you hear from him,” she says. “He’s had a lot of health issues, but he just keeps on going. He always has a smile on his face.”

Another fan, Pam Hainsworth, first met Stover at a show at the Workhouse Arts Center in Fairfax County two years ago. She’s purchased roughly a dozen of his pieces since, including her red flame box elder salt mill and salt and pepper shakers.

“He just has a knack for finding what’s beneath that block of wood and doing something unique,” says Hainsworth, who lives in Fairfax City. “His pieces look like museum pieces.”

Next month, for the first time, Stover will present roughly 30 works at the Visual Arts Center of Richmond’s prestigious Craft + Design Show. The three-day juried show is one of Richmond’s premier arts events, and takes place this year at the newly renovated Main Street Station train shed.

As the event is nearby and indoors, Stover hopes it will be easier on his body than some of his past shows. Following the Fairfax event, Stover was in crippling pain.

“I didn’t know whether I was going to make it home,” Stover says. “I can’t deal with the art show and the elements with my back.”

The Craft + Design Show’s yearly application process is competitive, but Stover is determined to present work there every year he can.

“As long as I can stand in front of a lathe, I’m going to make that happen.”

View source and photos.

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