BEAVERCREEK — Beavercreek resident Lowell Converse doesn’t have a formal process for selecting the wood he uses in his woodturning craft.
Currently, Converse has approximately 70 roughed out pieces of wood on his property, waiting to be shaped into bowls, platters, vases, sculptures, and other beautiful works of art.
Well, not quite.
“Not everything I make I call art,” he said. “Maybe artisanship is the right word for what most of us do. But some of the things I make would qualify [as art] because they’re totally unique, they’ve never been seen before.”
One thing is for sure, Converse is a craftsman, and has been a woodturner since he was a boy. Growing up in eastern Tennessee, he and his parents would often visit Gatlinburg, where artisans would set up a lathe in the shop window. As passersby would gather around to watch craftsmen at work, Converse was fascinated.
He first got a chance to try out a wood lathe in 1969, using what would be described today as antique equipment. However, his passion had to be put on hold somewhat for a career in the US military.
“In the early ’60s, the draft was breathing hard down my neck,” he said. At the time, Converse was going to school. He joined the Air Force, and through a specific program, went to officer training school. He spent three years as an enlisted man and 20 years as officer, with three separate tours at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base.
For 15 of the 23 years that Converse spent in the Air Force, woodturning took a back seat to work, family and the normal cycles of everyday life. However in 1997, Converse attended a craft show that reignited his passion for the craft.
“I saw things that had never been done with a wood lathe,” he said.
Converse credits the late woodturner Jim Burrowes for pointing him in the right direction. After the craft show, he found updated tools and resources, and returned to woodturning with a passion.
Converse’s work makes use of “found” wood which would otherwise be useful only for firewood. If someone’s got a tree down, he’ll go out with a chainsaw and cut a sizeable chunk of fresh, green wood.
As soon as he returns home, the wood goes onto the lathe, and Converse turns the wood into a bowl that’s “big and ugly,” in his words. With a roughed out shape, Converse puts sealant on it and lets it dry in a place with little air circulation. By the time the roughed out bowl dries — which can take months or even years — it’s warped into a completely new shape. At that point, it can put it back on the lathe and formed as desired.
“If I find good wood, I make whatever comes to mind,” he said. “It’s sustained me through this lockdown. You just go out to the shop and just lose yourself doing it.”
Above all, Converse lets his materials speak for themselves.
“There’s beauty in the wood, I just find a way to show it off,” he said. “Sometimes you don’t know what you’re going to find.”
Today, he is considered a master turner by the Ohio Valley Woodturners Guild. Additionally, he is the longest-running member of the Village Artisans of Yellow Springs, having been with the organization for 22 years.
“I tell people it’s where I store my stuff,” he joked. “Not only is it an outlet for my work, but I’m able to meet many interesting and talented folks. It’s a rewarding experience; it’s not just to make money.”
The eternal question about the nature of art has not escaped Converse’s sphere of influence.
“Woodturners have this debate wandering around every once in a while, is it art or is it not? I don’t worry about it,” he said.
Ultimately, they say art is in the eye of the beholder, Converse says he does what he does for the process.
“I tell people it’s a no brainer,” he added. “If people come into the shop, and say, ‘Oh you made these?’ there’s a little bit of a glow. Even better if someone gives me money for it. You can’t lose.”
Reach London Bishop at 937-502-4532 or follow @LBishopFDH on Twitter.