From wood and resin: Artist uses lathe to create beautiful pieces

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With wood and resin as a base, Monona artist Ryan Chambers uses a lathe to form the materials into beautiful, curved objects like bowls, vases and pots. (Photo by Audrey Posten)

By Audrey Posten, Times-Register

Creativity manifests itself differently for each person—just ask Ryan Chambers.

“I can’t draw a stick person,” he joked, “but I can make something out of wood or resin.”

With the materials as a base, the Monona artist, who began exhibiting at McGregor’s Left Bank Shop and Gallery earlier this year, uses a lathe to form them into beautiful, curved objects like bowls, vases and pots. He’s even developed custom items like duck calls and rings.

It all started around five years ago, with a woodturning interest and some instructional YouTube videos.

“I bought the cheapest lathe I could find,” Chambers recalled. “The first time I tried a bowl, there was a bad catch. It took it out of my hands and up into the air.”

But Chambers wasn’t deterred.

“I just watched more videos,” he said.

Now, he’s invested over $7,000 in tools and hours of time into honing his craft.

The production process is hard to explain, said Chambers. He mounts a piece of wood or resin on the lathe and “just starts going,” roughing out a basic shape, then adding details. Most of the time, he starts without knowing what the object will become.

“I don’t know if it will be a bowl, vase or lidded pot,” he explained. “I just sit in front of the lathe and watch it spin. It’ll show me what it wants to be.”

When using wood, Chambers aims to bring out the natural inner beauty of the piece. With resin, it’s up to him. He can add colors (blue is a favorite) and pour it with chunks of wood or other materials, such as pine cones, seed pods, even tooth picks, mixed in. 

“That’s the beauty of resin—everything’s a possibility,” he said. “There are millions of different colors to choose from, and you can put anything that’s dry and non-ferrous in there.”

Chambers is always up for a new design.

“I like to challenge myself,” he said.

Chambers takes custom orders, but he admitted it can be intimidating. Others often have an image in their mind of what they want, and he has to try to replicate it.

“You’re worried how it will turn out,” he said. “If I can just create on my own, it’s better. Most of the things I’ve done, I ended up giving away. It makes me happy to put a smile on other people’s faces.”

However, now that his woodturning skills have progressed, Chambers acknowledged it would be nice to make a living off selling his art. He’d even like to teach others. 

It’s not about fame or fortune, though, but how creating makes him feel.

“I can sit for hours on end in front of the lathe, thinking and looking. You can get lost in what you’re doing. It’s an escape from life and the outside world,” he said. “One of the best decisions of my life was to get into this craft.”

Chambers encourages others to travel outside their comfort zones and try new hobbies and passions. 

“The only way to learn is to do,” he added. “There’s a lot of failure. I’ve had things fly off the lathe and hit me and I’ve cut my hand with a band saw, but it’s never stopped me. There’s still so much to learn. Every day you learn something is a good day.”

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