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09 Feb Artist Spotlight: Richard Erkes

Ric Erkes’ beautiful vases and wooden bowls are available now at Coffey & Thompson Art Gallery, Frame & Design located in the Historic South End District in Charlotte. He is a retired Air Force Fighter Pilot, who currently teaches at the John C. Campbell Folk School, teaching students how to turn wood with a lathe. He enjoys working with the native trees of North Carolina by expressively turning them into art sculptures. For more information, please go to www.itsricsturn.com.

When did you start your career in art? How long have you known you wanted to be an artist?

My career, if you will, was more of an evolution. I’ve always enjoyed working with wood but it wasn’t until I bought a lathe to repair furniture, that I began to explore a more creative aspect of woodworking. North Carolina is blessed with numerous varieties of beautiful wood and a lathe challenges both your physical and your imaginative skills to show it off.

Describe your aesthetic in 3 words.

Grain, texture, and color.

Describe your artistic process and preparation?

Wood is a natural medium full of imperfections, diverse patterns, and colors, and even sometimes nails, bullets or barbed wire, so I have two basic choices to make. Do I make something where I have predetermined the design or create a piece that can best show off the wood? I attempt to look into the log or burl and try to analyze its grain pattern and decide from there.

Favorite piece you’ve created to date and why?

I can’t pick an individual piece because there is so much variation in design and legacy. When I see a piece I’ve made, it evokes the challenges I had making it, why I did or did not embellish the piece with texture or color, and usually a memory of where that tree came from and how I acquired it. I turn because I enjoy it and seeing my work brings back the memories of why it is what it is.

Who inspires you personally and/or professionally?

I regularly attend turning symposiums and club meetings and am continually inspired by the variety of techniques such as carving, pyrography, coloring, multi-axis…which allow endless design possibilities. I learned to turn wood into art under the mentorship of Don Oetjen, who for more than 20 years has always given me an honest critique.

Biggest accomplishment to date?

In Woodturning? Probably teaching at John C Campbell folk school and the satisfaction I get helping someone make their first wooden bowl.

Favorite location to create/what is your studio like?

A Woodturning studio needs a lathe, chainsaw, bandsaw, and a variety of handheld turning tools. My studio is a corner of my basement where I can let the chips fly.

A random fact about you?

I was an Air Force fighter pilot.

One thing you couldn’t live without?

Friends (my wife is my best friend)!

Your all-time favorite artist and/or your favorite emerging artist?

Ben Pho would have to be right up there. A technical master whose artistic genius told stories with just a piece of wood.

Name one goal for your career you’d like to achieve in the next 5 years?

Keep it fun. I would love for my skills to expand in new directions that will keep my passion new and alive for me.

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