Mentors and Friends

Rude Osolnik

 

I have been turning wood for over 40 years now.  In 1974 I was living in Spartanburg, South Carolina and working as a carpenter.  One day several of my friends (including my friend and boss, David Newlin) were planning a trip to the Southern Highlands Craft Guild fair in Asheville and they encouraged me to take a day off work and go with them.  There I saw the work of Rude Osolnik.  As I walked around the fair I kept returning to his booth to admire his incredible bowls.  He was turning bowls mostly from native hardwoods, but he also had bowls of Baltic Birch plywood that he had laminated into large turning blocks.  He wasn’t at the booth at the time, but I spoke to his wife a couple of times that afternoon.  I remember that when everyone was getting ready to leave, I said I just needed a minute for one more visit to his booth.  I went home and within a month had bought a lathe and begun to learn to turn bowls.

 

Here's a picture of me (in red) watching Rude Osolnik turn at a workshop at NCSU in the early 80's.
Here’s a picture of me (in red) watching Rude Osolnik turn at a workshop at NCSU in the late 80’s.

 

I met Rude at one of the woodturning symposiums sponsored by the LeCoff brothers at the George School in Newtown, Pennsylvania.  I remember telling him that seeing his work was the impetus for my work on the lathe.  From his reaction I gathered that he had heard this many times.  Sometime in the late 80’s  Rude came to North Carolina State University to give a workshop at the Crafts Center where I was teaching.  It was an opportunity to get to know him better, and to learn about teaching woodturning as well as about doing it.

In this photo I am helping Rude as he demonstrates the use of the bowl gouge.
In this photo I am helping Rude as he demonstrates the use of the bowl gouge.
In this shot I (with my back to the camera) am turning the hand wheel so that everyone can see the cutting action in slow motion.
In this shot I (with my back to the camera) am turning the hand wheel so that everyone can see the cutting action in slow motion.

 

One evening a young woman who was in our class at ACC brought in a candle holder which she wanted to duplicate.  She explained that her father had worked for the US State Department, and that she had spent most of her high school years living in Brazil.  While they were there, her parents had bought this candle holder.  She wanted to make two more like it so they could have a set.  I recognized right away that this was one of Rude’s iconic candle holders.  It had the exact proportions and shape of the candle holders that he had taught us to make when he came to NCSU.  The top had been drilled with a modified spade bit and the bottom had been drilled and filled with molten lead and covered in green felt.  The piece had not been signed, so it could have been made by Rude or by one of his students at Berea College.  His industrial arts students made many of these which he sold in shops throughout the mountains of Kentucky, Tennessee, Virginia, and North Carolina.  The clincher for me was that it wasn’t turned in any wood native to Brazil: it was made of Black Walnut!  Yet she insisted that her parents had bought it in Brazil.

This is a photo from Rude's website showing his iconic candle holders.  These are walnut.
This is a photo from Rude’s website showing his iconic candle holders. These are walnut.

Several years ago I told this story to Dale Nish who had come to Raleigh to give a talk at the opening of a show that he had curated at the Gregg Museum of Art and Design which at that time was housed in the student center on NCSU’s campus.  Dale laughed upon hearing this amazing story about his old friend.  He even had an answer to the mystery of this piece being purchased in Brazil.  He told me that Rude had been a “cultural ambassador” for the State Department (Louis Armstrong had been one as well), and had traveled to several countries in South America.  He said he wouldn’t be surprised to learn that Rude had carried a whole suitcase full of candle holders to sell.

 

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