The art of wood
Work by Heyward O'Cain of Orangeburg

Many see trees as majestic natural works, but it was one particular tree that helped inspire a local exhibit with the power to move the imagination.

Wood turner Dr. Ben Pendarvis of Orangeburg was the driving force behind "A Gathering of Woodworkers: Celebrating the Art of Wood" at the Orangeburg County Fine Arts Center's Lusty Gallery. Featuring the works of 18 artists and craftsmen from the Midlands, the exhibit began Monday and continues through May 28.

Several bowls turned by Pendarvis are available for purchase during the exhibit, with all proceeds benefiting the Arts Center. Other participating artists will also donate 10 percent from the sale of their work.

OCFAC Executive Director Beth Thomas said Pendarvis' bowls are rich in color and grain, closely resembling walnut.

Pendarvis said the bowls were created from a 100-year-old cypress tree that used to be near the boat landing on the Edisto River. That was the impetus behind organizing the exhibit, he said.

"A former Orangeburg City official who served with me on the Downtown Orangeburg Revitalization Association told me they were removing a cypress about 30 inches in diameter," Pendarvis said. "He asked if I had an interest in getting half of it. I made several bowls from half of the tree."

Thomas said the Arts Center's first wood exhibit was held in March 2007 with eight artists.

"Ben Pendarvis exhibited in that show and he has coordinated this exhibit, which is a much larger one than our first," Thomas said. "The work on display now is absolutely breathtaking.

"We always have an exhibit in the Lusty Gallery, usually on a one-month rotation. But, as this is three-dimensional and the gallery is used for many functions, this can only be for two weeks. This is definitely a special event."

The current exhibit features various wood art and craft forms, such as wood turning, wood carving and woodworking. Pendarvis said the difference between the various forms involves how the creator brings the medium to its final form.

"Wood turning is done where the wood is mounted, carved and finished with lathes," he said. "In woodworking, one creates tables, chairs and boxes for daily home use.

"Wood carving involves taking a knife or gouge and physically carving whatever you are presenting. You can do it in relief or in the round."

Gathering participants for the exhibit wasn't difficult. All of the wood turners displaying their works at the Arts Center share membership with Pendarvis in the Columbia-based Palmetto Woodturners.

"The club members all show their work at a lot of the same galleries, such as Walterboro, Aiken and Salkehatchie," Pendarvis said. "One has taught at the John C. Campbell Folk School in western North Carolina.

"The wood carvers and woodworkers are all from around here. I knew them and asked them separately if they would like to be part of the exhibit."

Exhibitor Robert Lyon of Columbia has a master's degree in fine arts in ceramics and glassblowing. He has taught sculpture at the University of South Carolina for 32 years. He said he immersed himself in wood turning six years ago.

"It just sucked me in to the point that now I work exclusively in wood and some mixed media," Lyon said. "Most people don't have a true idea of what the art form can be.

"Although it has a history of thousands of years, the fact is wood turning has only gained popularity over the last 25 years in the United States. It is somewhat unexplored."

Lyon's works range from the whimsical to the traditional. He said the Orangeburg exhibit offers the community a sense of what is going on in woodworking today.

"This gives people like me the opportunity to use turned wood in new ways," Lyon said. "I use other elements and incorporate them into my wood turning, such as laminated book pages.

"I try not to just use the wood just for its beauty, but for the effect it will have in the overall piece. I want to explore ideas about memory, coming and going, in my work now."

Heyward O'Cain of Orangeburg has been trying to improve his wood-carving work of ducks and fish since he became a juried artist at the South Carolina Artisans Center in Walterboro. He said he is excited about showing his work locally.

"I think it's good to do an exhibit like this in Orangeburg, and I've been all over in recent months," O'Cain said. "I partnered with two other fellows from around Columbia. All three of us were invited to Sumter to work with wood carver Grainger McKoy (of Pawley's Island). That was one of my highlights."

Six years ago, Orangeburg native Joseph Thompson started woodworking on Vancouver Island, British Columbia, creating a traditional wooden sailboat. He then started making handmade furniture on commission because he said it allows him to express his creativity.

"I came straight back and started designing and building original furniture, like dining room tables and chairs, and stand-alone cabinetry," Thompson said. "I wanted to do my own designs with chisels and handsaws and hand planes, not machines.

"It's nice to be in the company of other artists doing work in wood. Hopefully, it can give something back to the community."

The Orangeburg exhibit even has the distinction of featuring perhaps one of the youngest artists ever to display his work locally. Eleven-year-old Joseph Garrick of Orangeburg uses a scroll saw to create works that Thomas described as "looking like lace, very delicate carving."

"I started woodworking about a year ago," Garrick said. "The scroll saw is like a band saw, but it goes up and down instead of around and it has really small blades. I would like to eventually mix woods with a light and dark color that makes it really cool when you get done."

Pendarvis said he is enthusiastic about the dual opportunities the exhibit presents for Orangeburg and the Arts Center.

"I think this will be one of the best wood-turning presentations ever locally, and one of the first instances of wood craft and art displays that we've had in our state," he said. "The wood carving does well from time to time at the Orangeburg County Fair, but this will bring all the woodwork together.

"We have some excellent wood turners that display in some form or another, but I don't know where a number of them have been all together in one place. I'm impressed they all wanted to show up."

Contact the writer: psarata@timesanddemocrat.com or 803-533-5540.


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