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Woodturning News: General News

QUAD-CITY TIMES: You won't believe this art is wood (02/17/2018)

Tuesday, February 20, 2018   (0 Comments)
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Walk into Steve Sinner's art studio and prepare to be amazed. What IS all this?

The 24-foot by 36-foot space he had built in 2001 underneath his Bettendorf home like a walk-out basement is totally filled with equipment. There are lathes, drills, a hoist and tools that he invented himself to push the limits of what he's able to do with wood.

Hanging from the ceiling, like so many onions, are upside-down vessels of wood, already turned and hollowed once, but waiting for a second turning and hollowing after drying.

Here and there are a few pieces that are finished, or nearly so. These are vessels with such glossy, elaborate finishes that many people assume, on first glance, that they are ceramic. But no, they are wood, finished to a sheen and embellished with designs.

In woodturning, a field that has been recognized as a fine art for only the past 40 to 45 years, Sinner is a master.

His work has earned him national and international recognition in contests and in 2009 he was among 40 artists worldwide featured in "Masters Woodturning," one of a series of compilations by New York and London publishers Lark Books.

"Steve Sinner has broken new ground with his beautifully patterned vases and goblets," curator Jim Christiansen wrote. "Cleanly constructed and beautifully embellished, Sinner's work blends technical expertise with high artistry."

On Saturday, an exhibition of about 30 of Sinner's works opened at the Figge Art Museum, Davenport, where they will be on display through June 24.

Sinner's creations aren't just beautiful and amazingly wrought. They also convey meaning, the meaning Sinner intended and that which the viewer brings to the piece.

"Ant Farm III," for example, is a vessel decorated with rows of cubicles, each containing a "worker ant." There is one empty silver cubicle, and another with gold. Every ant is oriented toward the gold cubicle.

"The piece is all about human desire and the constraints of society," Sinner said in an email.

The improbable journey

Sinner didn't set out to be an artist until later in life. Becoming one has been an improbable journey that happened through a series of unlikely events. In fact, "An Improbable Journey," is the title of a talk he will give Thursday at an opening reception at the Figge.

"It's about the chances of getting somewhere (when) the chances are slim to none," he said.

From childhood on, Sinner had an interest in making things out of wood. It was how he played.

With a degree in industrial education from Iowa State University, he went to work for the former J.I. Case Co. in Bettendorf, making furniture and clocks at home as a hobby.

Around 1975 he read a book titled "Creative Woodturning," by Dale Nish that "grabbed me," Sinner said. After that he began pursuing new paths and woodturning "became a passion."

After 21 years with Case, Sinner worked for 10 years at Family Resources Inc., Davenport, then struck out on his own to be a professional wood artist.

"I wanted to make a name for myself in the wood turning world," he said. "I said, 'I will go for the brass ring, and even if I don't touch it, I will die happy.'"

Some techniques he learned in class, such as how to do gilding, the process of applying gold leaf or silver leaf to the surface of his vessels. But other techniques he taught himself.

As he explains his work, classical music from WVIK, the public radio station at Augustana College, plays in the background, and outside the large windows, all manner of birds — blue jays, cardinals, woodpeckers — swoop to the feeders in his wooded backyard.

Sinner's favorite woods are maple, walnut and cherry, and — as with all wood workers — he is especially smitten with those that reveal an unusual grain, such as a burled piece, or one that birds have drilled into. The pathogens introduced through the holes create interesting patterns in the wood, he explains.

Although he enjoys painting and embellishing his surfaces, some are left plain, showing the natural grain of the wood.

All told, Sinner has created about 550 "serious" pieces. Large works may take three to six months or more to finish. Purchased by serious collectors, they sell in the five figures.

View source and photos.

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