SPALTED WHITE ASH

GORDON DUNPHY

WOOD

ARTIST
BIOGRAPHY

A fifth-generation New Brunswick dairy farmer-turned-artist, Gordon Dunphy worked with native hard wood, turning stumps, gnarly burls and spalted wood into spectacular, smooth-as-velvet, often paper-thin vessels that are collected the world over.

At the age of 55, Gordon sold his family farm in order to devote himself to his new found love: woodturning. Over the next decades he became renowned for the size of his pieces, their graceful lines and shapes and their flawless finish. Self-taught, a sensitive transformation of the gifts that nature’s presented in a piece of wood happened under his careful hands. By the time he died on September 25, 2008 at the age of 74, he was considered to be one of the premier wood turners in Canada.

With no formal training, Gordon knew from day one that he wanted to build large wood-turned pieces. At the time, no lathe was commercially available that would accommodate the size that he wished to make - so Gordon built his own from scratch. The base of the lathe was an impressive 10,000 lbs so he could turn any size piece he wished.

Gordon worshipped wood and all its qualities –Incredibly, he dried all his pieces naturally, no kilns or chemicals were used, the complete process taking 2-3 years for each individual piece to cure.
He was a perfectionist, presenting the wood in the most beautiful, simple, thoughtful manner, so that people would look at it and think about the tree from which it came. He possessed an incredible sensitivity to the material - he was very much a poet whose verse was written upon and within the vessels he created and he saw things in wood that nobody else could.

The process of transforming the hardwood into his beautifully burnished wood bowls was long and involved. He never cut down a tree in his more than two decades as a wood-turner He would haul wood home to his studio where it would rest in his yard for a year or so.

He would study each one and then cut them up, examining the wood for the finest visual aspects of the grain. He would then rough out the shape of the bowl but only take away half an inch on the inside of the vessel. He would then place it in a drying room for months until the piece was ready for the next turning of half an inch. And so the slow process continued. That way, the wood dried ever so gradually and did not crack.

His finish was painstaking, involving up to an amazing 23 layers of flawless, Tung oil, finish - not only on the outside but on the inside as well. In this manner, he achieved an incredible depth of finish, with a mirror-like, deep sheen not typically seen in woodturnings.

Gordon's work has toured internationally and his work is found in the collections of Canadian prime ministers and the Royal family, and in the Bronfman Claridge Collection. Dunphy amassed honors, including a New Brunswick Craft Council's Premier Prize, a Governor-General's Award nomination and the $10,000 Strathbutler Award.
Raj asked me why did I wait to the age of 55 to sell my family farm in order to devote myself to woodturning. Really, I could not have done it 10 years earlier, I had to live my life. 
Gordon Dunphy