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Photo by Dante Fontana
Sixteenth century professor of theology Martin Luther once said, “For in the true nature of things, if we rightly consider, every green tree is far more glorious than if it were made of gold and silver.”
That pretty much describes how wood turner Phil Sargent approaches each piece of wood he sees.
Sargent has loved wood his whole life and admits it is in his genes. His father was a forestry engineer so he was around wood and forests throughout his childhood. Sargent has a great appreciation for wood in all forms. “I am a wood recycler,” Sargent proudly admits. He works almost exclusively with reclaimed wood gathered locally.
He couldn’t wait to retire so he could concentrate on his hobby. For the last eight years he has been crafting wood into bowls, vases, candlesticks and other objects via the craft of woodturning. Wikipedia.com defines woodturning as “a form of woodworking that is used to create wooden objects on a lathe.” It is different than most forms of woodworking in that the wood is moved across a stationary tool that is used to cut and shape it.
Sargent contemplates constantly on what he can do with the stacks of wood that are in and around his home studio, which he shares with the family’s Ford Focus. “When the mood strikes,” Sargent says, “I have to be mentally ready to do something.”
He crafts his bowls or vessels with an organic touch and often leaves the bark as a rim or on the outside. He embraces what others might see as imperfections in the wood, such as insect damage, worm trails, or traces of mistletoe (a destructive parasite). That means he needs to be very flexible with turning a piece. “I always look at the wood as I am turning it,” Sargent says, “If I see a color or mark, I change the piece to capture that.”
Sargent is known as the “Wing Man” at his club, the Nor-Cal Woodturners. His nickname is well earned because in many of his pieces he works hard to retain the outer beauty of the bark and sometimes a portion of a branch or other growth. “I really don’t start out with a plan,” he explains, “I let the wood dictate the piece.”
His work can be seen and purchased at local galleries Blue Line in Roseville, and High Hand in Loomis. He also participates in the annual Autumn Art Studio Tour presented by Placer Arts each November.
Sargent works with local arborist Kevin Kemper of Kemper Tree Care based in Roseville to gather wood that is harvested for urban projects – trees that are removed to make room for buildings. “I’m a woodworker,” Kemper says, “Phil is a fine artist.”
In any case, they both understand the importance of preserving wood and keeping it out of the landfill. “A chunk of wood is a repository of history,” Kemper says. “It is the window into the soul of a tree.” Kemper credits his friend’s talent and ability for bringing the beauty out in wood. “He gives wood a higher purpose as fine art.”
For more information about Phil Sargent, visit placerarts.org/artistregistry.