Recovered Wood Becomes A Thing Of Beauty In Crafter's Hands
Becomes A Thing Of Beauty In Crafterâs Hands
By Nancy K. Crevier
When out on a âtree ventureâ with his friends to find downed trees, Michael Agius is looking beyond the withered limbs and leaves. As he examines the fallen specimen, he looks past the shredded bark and into the heart of the tree where he sees the new vessel it could become. He sees the beauty waiting to be discovered under his skilled hands and the precise application of his tools and lathe.
Newtown residents have the opportunity to appreciate the art of self-taught local artist Michael C. Agius at the C.H. Booth Library now through April 30. Mr Agius has put together a display in the lower lobby case of his hand-turned wooden bowls and vases, the fruit of his most recent passion.
âMy whole life I have been involved in art,â said Mr Agius, a former corrections officer at Garner and past member of Newtown Volunteer Ambulance Corps. Before focusing on the art of wood turning, Mr Agius worked in oil, acrylic, and watercolor painting, as well as copper sculpture. âI dabble in whatever seems to call me,â he said.
Woodturning called to him three years ago when the fan of âThis Old Houseâ saw a segment on the craft and decided to explore it. âI got a video from the library, watched it, bought a used lathe, and got started,â said Mr Agius. He has since accumulated two more lathes and several other tools of the trade, and goes to a bimonthly wood turning club at Brookfield Craft Center where he picks up tips from the more experienced turners. For the most part, though, Mr Agius has taught himself the art that makes bowls from burls and brings out the beauty of a knot from a chunk of wood.
The voids and cracks that swirl through the finished products create pleasing patterns and add to the character of each piece, he said.
âThese are not utilitarian type things,â said Mr Agius of the vessels that he has turned from hunks of cherry, black walnut, maple, oak, mulberry, yew, apple, birch, and hickory woods. The containers are in some instances as thin as glass, and would shatter just as easily if dropped, but he encourages people to hold the pieces nonetheless, saying that it is the best way to appreciate the works.
Most of the wood with which he works is recovered from the yards of friends and other residents who know to call him when they are removing trees from their properties. Except for the soft pines and spruces, nearly any native wood is welcome in his woodshop in Sandy Hook.
âAll of the woods are fun to work with. Probably oak is harder to work with than some of the others. The grain is not as tight as, say, a rock maple. The tighter the grain in the wood, the more you can work it.â
He loves the variances in color of the different wood varieties, and the nuances of every piece.
âYou can take a piece with a big void and try to incorporate that void into the piece. I think it gives character,â he said. The other âcharacter builder,â said Mr Agius, is spalting, the spidery veins of black mold that spread through a tree as it starts to rot. Spalted wood is crazed with unusual patterns. The trick, he said, is to get to the wood before the rot has spread too far.
âI look for the odd pieces of wood,â he said. âIâd love to get the roots of a black walnut tree. The texture is more of that of a burl, a growth on the wood, and there are beautiful patterns. You find some of the nicest grains in the roots.â
As the roughly hewed wood spins at revolutions between 300 and 1,200 per minute on the lathe, Mr Agius visualizes the finished product, selectively slowing or increasing the latheâs speed and determining which of the ultra-sharp tools he will use as each piece evolves. He finds the entire process therapeutic, and while he initially hand sanded and hand rubbed oil into each bowl, he has since purchased an electric buffer. Even so, every bowl spends a lot of time in his hands, he said. He does not use lacquers or sprays on his bowls, preferring to finish them with either linseed or mineral oils.
âI put the shine on them with carnauba wax,â added Mr Agius.
Experience has taught him to approach the process more cautiously.
âI take my time more now, and I feel more in tune with the piece. I have definitely learned patience from wood turning,â Mr Agius said, noting that too much or not enough applied pressure as the lathe turns can make or break a piece, literally and figuratively. âIâm better able to judge the raw material as time goes by, too,â he said.
It is hard for him to part with his artwork, but occasionally he will sell a piece. He is more likely, however, to give away one of his works to someone he thinks will truly love it. âI do enjoy giving them away, and it makes me feel good when people like what Iâve made,â he said.
âI hope that I am always getting better. I will keep turning wood, I know that,â said Mr Agius. âI love it and itâs fun. There are so many different styles and always a lot more to learn.â
âWorks In Connecticut Woodâ by Michael Agius can be viewed in the lower lobby case near the childrenâs department at C.H. Booth Library through April 30 during library hours. To contact the artist, call 270-7408.