Artist Puts Personality In Wood Bowls

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Curt Harp can't remember when he did not enjoy carving wood to suit his eye.

Curt Harp is a man with a fondness for the feel of wood in his hands as he cuts and shapes it into art.

His avocation started when he was a boy.

"My dad lived in the Depression when tools and lumber were hard to get, but he whittled little wooden chains and I watched the old guys in the park whittle."

Harp's parent gave him a "jack knife," a pocketknife, when he was six-years-old.

As Harp grew to manhood, he progressed from whittling small figures and toys to carved, wooden wall art and later, furniture.

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Curt Harp's handmade vessels.

The skills he honed woodworking proved useful in his 46-year-long career -- he apprenticed to a butcher at 14 years old.

When he had time from work and raising a family, he pursued his hobby, making gifts for family members, although he eventually sold pieces at craft fairs in the Valley.

About 20 years ago Harp purchased a tool that mostly gathered dust the first decade he owned it, but has given him much delight during the past 10 years.

Grabbed by the lathe

A lathe is a machine that shapes material by means of a rotating drive that can be set with different carving tools.

Now, Harp uses his lathe to make "little turnings" and intricate, segmented bowls.

A number of these vessels house personal memories -- for instance: beneath the white oak top of a Depression-era table was a base of chestnut wood.

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The dark wood in this bowl came from a redwood picnic table that had been outside weathering about 25 years.

"All the chestnut trees in the country died out from disease 100 years ago," he said.

When Harp crafted a new top for the cherished family heirloom that belonged first to his mother and presently his daughter, he was able to use small triangles, rectangles and squares of chestnut wood in bowls.

The man, Ray Hagerty, who inaugurated Harp into the meat-cutting trade, was also a family friend.

Hagerty was chopping down trees and one fell on the old redwood picnic table that had sat open to the elements for 25 years.

Harp made several pieces out of the redwood.

Harp builds his hardwood bowls in layers of polygons, so he has three or four going at any given time.

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The lighter pieces in this bowl are chestnut taken from a treasured family table.

"He plans his next bowl in the middle of the night when he can't sleep," said Wanda Harp.

Color, character and contrast are what he looks for when deciding which type of woods will make artful combinations.

Oak, maple, cherry, walnut, aspen and white birch are the woods he uses most often.

Harp's pieces are decorative. He clear seals them to capture the natural colors of the wood.

"I've been doing bowls so long now, they have a personality people have come to recognize," Harp said.

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