Robert "Spike" Cloninger, Fine Lathe Turned Vessels - Fairhope AL

Spike Cloninger
I am making wooden vessels - bowls, urns, vases, goblets - hand turned on a lathe, or hand carved, or both. My medium is wood that I harvest directly from tree or stump.

The wood that I work with is of no value to more conventional woodworkers. The twisted and gnarled crotches, burls and roots that I use are left in the forestCloninger wood-turned vessel by harvesters of lumber and pulp. Even firewood gatherers disdain the pieces that I routinely seek. The odd shaped, unwieldy, chunks that won’t split and won’t stack and won’t fit in the fireplace - these are the treasures to which I am attentive, and which come under my hand.

Most of the vessels that I make are turned from “green” (unseasoned) wood, straight from a log, burl or gnarly stump. It is the nature of such wood to continue to “move” a bit after they are turned, which accounts for the out-of-round and/or textured aspect of many of these vessels. If, while turning, I uncover an insect or larvae path, I try to incorporate it into the surface of the finished piece. I will sometime leave the marks of woodpecker activity on the surface of the vessel - the signature of the artisan who made a living in the tree before I have.

Cloninger turned vesselMy wood yards are the log jambs and the swamps of our coastal rivers. Magnolia and Holly and the roots and burls of Eastern White Cedar, Swamp Gum and Oak are abundantly available. Hurricane debris is another of my sources, delivered on a regular basis here on the Gulf Coast. When I weary of working with local woods, I gather a pick-up truck- load of choice pieces and journey to the Carolinas to barter with other wood turners for Maple and Cherry burl, or to Texas to swap for Mesquite.

Thus my environment is my stock in trade, and my relationship to the rivers, and bayshores I live near is no less important in my art - both Cloninger turned vesselphysically and spiritually - than the relationship of my hands and eyes to the spinning workpiece.

From river, forest, bay and swamp to the music-filled coolness of my small shop - my days are spun in wood.

~ Robert Cloninger ~