Jack Fifield’s work exemplifies turned-wood excellence. This piece is so delicate and elegant that it is hard to imagine it was once a solid piece of lumber.
The woodturning process begins with a solid block of wood, which is then shaped using hand-held tools and a lathe—a machine that rotates rapidly while shaving and shaping the wood. The wood is then sanded to remove superficial imperfections, and finally the work is sprayed with finish. While the natural quality of the maple is what gives the exterior of this piece its interesting design, the finish does enhance its natural beauty and color.
About the Artist
Jack Fifield grew up in Minnesota. He credits his father, a hobbyist woodworker, for sparking his own early interest in wood. “As I entered adulthood, my interest in making objects of wood grew as I was developing manual skills—and patience—in the College of Dentistry at the University of Minnesota,” Fifield recalls. “I became adept at carving, and then in 1994 I discovered the lathe.” Now this McKee, Kentucky, dentist expresses his artistic side by creating delicate bowls, vases, and other works that have been exhibited all over the United States.
“Every step of the process is an adventure. Finding that twisted or burly old tree, blown down or left by loggers—it’s like receiving a wrapped present, just knowing there’s something great inside.”
“Most of my work is turned in its green, or wet, state initially,” Fifield says. He tries to turn a block of wood down to its final form in one session at the lathe because this technique “suits my immediate-gratification-type personality.” The pieces dry as he turns them and continue to dry slowly once off the lathe, creating an extremely smooth surface while retaining the natural ripples and warps of the wood.
Fifield’s enthusiasm for his craft is evident in the way he talks about it: “Every step of the process is an adventure. Finding that twisted or burly old tree, blown down or left by loggers—it’s like receiving a wrapped present, just knowing there’s something great inside.”
Fifield has been interested in art since he was a youngster. On his résumé, he lists his 9th-grade art class at Eden Prairie Junior High School in Eden Prairie, Minnesota, as the beginning of his art education. He later apprenticed in woodworking at the Cedar Workshop in Minneapolis. He attended the University of Minnesota School of Dentistry from 1971 to 1974, spending “a remarkable amount of time” learning sculpture in composite materials as well as metal and lost-wax casting. Fifield also attended workshops with master woodturner Rude Osolnik and other leading woodturners. His own work has been exhibited at numerous shows, galleries, and museums, including the Smithsonian Institution and the Minnesota Museum of American Art.
These days, Fifield turns his pieces in a log workshop that he and his wife, Linda, a bead artist, built across the pond from their home. The building looks out onto the Appalachian forest, where there’s more wood on the ground than Fifield could turn in a few lifetimes. He finds the land “full of inspiration everywhere,” he says, “because curves are everywhere.”
“Wood is one of those materials that exudes beauty at every stage of human manipulation,” Fifield explains. “Contemporary art must begin with the idea, working toward craftsmanship that makes idea into object. Being of the ‘Osolnik’ school, I strive for that perfection of form, balance, harmony, elegance, and yes, beauty, of wood.”