Glasgow Daily Times, Glasgow, KY


January 8, 2014

Bowled over by wood

GLASGOW — Editor’s Note: This one of an ongoing series of articles about members of the Arts Guild of the Barrens.

John Witty began making wooden bowls after a friend showed him how to do it.

“I started making a couple just for the fun of it,” he said.

It didn’t take him long to decide it was something he enjoyed doing and he wanted to do more.

Witty makes wooden bowls using cherry, cedar and ambrosia maple, among other types of wood.

“The first bowl I made out of cherry really sold me on the cherry and I didn’t do anything else but cherry for a long time,” he said.

 Several of his bowls have been on display in art galleries, including Gallery on the Square in Franklin and 212 On The Main in Glasgow.

He makes the bowls without using a lathe. He uses a chainsaw and hand tools, instead.

To make a bowl, he starts by cutting a log to the right size he needs.

Once the wood had dried, a process that can take quite a while, he slopes the ends of the wood chunk with a chainsaw and then he starts sanding it.

“I gouge the insides out with a little spoon gouge to kind of give it a hammered look,” Witty said. “It’s a rustic, elegant look.”

Witty, who is in the process of moving to southcentral Kentucky from Rockville, Ind., obtains logs for his bowls in two ways.

In Indiana, he has a friend with a 300-acre farm that has a lot of cherry trees on it.

“Cherry, a lot of times, will grow a little crooked and be too crooked to sell for lumber,” he said. “He said I could have any of it I wanted.”

Witty, who now operates a tree trimming business, also gets logs from trees he has cut down on customers’ property.

“We took down a tree, a big cherry tree, that fell on a lady’s house. I thought, ‘Well, I’ll cut a couple of pieces out to make a bowl.’ The grain was so beautiful that I started making big cherry bowls,” he said. “I love the cherry because it just keeps getting darker. It starts out real light when I’m making it. I use mineral oil and over a couple of years they get darker.”

The first cedar bowl he made came from the cemetery on Ky. 90 near the Barren-Metcalfe County line where his great-great-great grandfather is buried.

“There was a big cedar tree in that little clump of trees on the hillside and the wind blew it over about three years ago. I brought my saw down here and cut out a big chunk,” he said.

Using a wood burning tool, he wrote on the bottom of the bowl from where the wood came. It is something he treasures and doesn’t plan to sell it.

Sometimes Witty inlays turquoise, copper or imitation ivory into the bowls.  

“For the last couple of years I’ve used turquoise and copper and different things,” he said.

Witty also does some relief carving with his bowls, particularly a basket weave design.

He learned how to do the relief carving after taking a gun carving class in Utah.

“Some of the cherry bowls were a lot bigger and the bottoms of them weren’t so smooth. I thought I’d like to learn how to do some relief carving and carve some seams into them,” he said.

The basket weave design is typically on the bottom of the bowls and helps the bowls to sit more evenly.

He does the basket weave with a dental drill.

“It sounds like you are getting your teeth drilled,” he said. “It’s real tedious work.”

Witty can make a bowl in two to three days if he choose not to do any carving on it.

“If I do the carving that really adds a lot of time,” he said.

Witty has also made doors for a restaurant in Indiana. He carved a wildlife scene, featuring deer on the doors. He has also made a sculpture in the shape of a bear, which stands about 6 feet, 2 inches tall. He made the bear in 2008. It is on display at the same restaurant in Indiana that has the doors he made.

Until recently, Witty has just displayed his bowls and not sold them.

“I wanted to get several of them made and to try and find a gallery I could take them to,” he said. “I’ve had a lot of chances to sell them and I tried to avoid it. I’m just now starting to sell them.”

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