Carving a name for himself

Classic rock blares above the buzz of the woodturner as Dan Tilden, sporting a backward baseball cap and low-slung jeans, whittles a chunk of oak into a salad bowl.

"It's important to keep the sides at a consistent thickness," he shouts, in a shower of shavings, "so that when it dries out, it doesn't crack. It's really similar to pottery."

The Ashland native is carving out a name for himself as a potter of logs: a practitioner of the ancient craft of woodturning, developed by the Egyptians to sculpt art out of nature.

But unlike the wood he turns and the tradition he follows, Tilden is still green. The 21-year-old took up the lathe, a machine that spins wood and looks like a sideways drill-press, during his first year at Ashland High School and has continued to hone his skills — and hunks of wood — since.

Beginning Friday, Tilden will be featured — along with 19 other, older woodworkers — in the 29th Annual Fine Woodworking Show, held at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival's Great Hall on Main Street.

Siskiyou Woodcraft Guild is hosting the free, weekend-long event, in which visitors can browse for holiday gifts, meet the creators and learn about woodworking.

"The guild is about networking and education, and this is a wonderful time to see works that usually are just in a gallery or in a home," said Tom Phillips, guild president. "It's really a chance to see things that you don't see the rest of the year without traveling."

Southern Oregon and Northern California artists will show their wares beginning at 10 a.m. each day and ending at 7 p.m. on Friday, 6 p.m. on Saturday and 4 p.m. on Sunday.

Tilden will be there "the whole time," he said last week, while working at Cold Mountain Studio, owned by his mentor, Ashland artist Christian Burchard.

The event will be Tilden's first large-scale art show, and he has been working overtime — literally, as he also has a full-time construction job — for about two months to make enough bowls and hollow vessels to display.

About four days per week, after hanging up his hardhat, he roars up Pompadour Drive to the studio and turns wood for hours, sometimes fielding tips from Burchard, but usually working alone, save for Thompson, the resident black cat.

"As soon as I took a woodshop class as a freshman, I kind of just fell in love with it. When I'm working on the lathe I just feel so relaxed and focused on the piece. I'm not thinking about day-to-day things," Tilden said, standing in the studio strewn with wood shavings, finished sculptures and fresh stumps.

"He was one of the kids who got kind of the hang of it pretty quick," said Burchard, a professional wood sculptor who volunteers in the high school woodshop class. "I just couldn't keep him off the lathe and he learned incredibly fast. I've never seen anybody learn that fast.

"He loves it and how many 21-year-olds know what they want to do with their lives? He has passion, he's talented and he's working hard."

Tilden, in turn, now occasionally returns to the high school to help students learn the lathe.

His pieces, which typically cost between $70 and $300, are also on display at Blue Heron Gallery and Gifts downtown and can be purchased on his Web site, All the wood he uses comes from local trees scheduled to be cut down anyway, he added.

Although some of his pieces are functional, like his salad bowls, Tilden intends his work to be primarily an aesthetic experience, he said.

"A lot of people ask, 'Well, what do you do with it?' And I say, 'It's just like a painting on the wall. What do you use a painting on the wall for? It's just a piece of art.'"

Staff writer Hannah Guzik can be reached at 482-3456 ext. 226.

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