Phil Norton

Phil Norton woodworkingI grew up on a farm in West Texas where we grew cotton and wheat and raised cattle. It was a simple but tough life and I loved it. I particularly loved being outdoors and watching nature. I did not understand much of what I saw but that did not stop me from enjoying it. In college at Texas Tech University, I majored in Wildlife Management, which sounded like a great way to make a career out of being outdoors. After graduation I was lucky to get a job with the US Fish and Wildlife Service in the Division of Wildlife Refuges. That’s what I did for 36 years, working on and for National Wildlife Refuges. It was a good career, and I had great fun for the most part. Later in my career as I climbed the ladder of success, and my grade level increased and the bureaucracy and paperwork increased, the “fun” aspect decreased, so I retired.

I began to look for activities to participate in for personal fulfillment. I had always liked working with wood, making bookshelves, boxes and chests, all of which was very enjoyable. But then I discovered woodturning. I love it, and it has become my passion. Simply stated, my goal is to achieve the perfect form, the purest possible curves as expressed in simple, uncluttered shapes that expose the beauty of the wood to the fullest. I really love making something beautiful out of something that most people would consider ordinary and would perhaps throw away or burn.

I think there is a craftsperson in everyone. It is an enduring basic human impulse, the desire to do a job well for its own sake. Doing crafts work is not about something quick and easy. The slow tempo of crafts work, of taking the time to do something well, is profoundly satisfying.

I’ve always loved the shapes of Southwestern Indian pottery with their smooth flowing lines. I had always turned plates, platters, and open bowls, but one day I decided to turn a pot using images of pottery as a reference. I became hooked. This is now what I love to make. Wood is a medium of warmth and integrity. A wood turner must know his materials well, taking into account the variables the wood characteristics, including the possible shrinking, expanding, and splitting of the medium itself. Since wood comes with grains, knots, and unique characteristics, its appearance can play a large role in why it is chosen for a particular project.

The most fascinating bowls often are the ones made from burls. Burls as found in nature are usually grotesque, gnarled malformations that develop occasionally on trees. Turning a burl into a vessel that viewers exclaim over is a fine example of making something beautiful out of what most would throw away or burn.