To celebrate the labor of its members, the Green Bank Gallery held a special event last weekend. Several gallery artists demonstrated their crafts, including a musical performance by Sugar Run Band.
Joining the local artists was Virginia crafter Nathan Jenkins, who uses an ancient method to turn wood and create items such as baby rattles, bowls, spoons and baskets.
“I have been working with wood ever since I was two-years-old,” Jenkins said. “I made shavings first. I made walking sticks. I got into making baskets and about fifteen years ago I started turning out on the spring-pole lathe that I have.”
The spring-pole lathe is operated by a treadle attached to a rope which move the spring-pole up and down. This type of lathe can be traced back to the ancient Egyptians and was used throughout Europe by woodworkers.
“This design of lathe I have here was developed in 1775,” Jenkins said. “This lathe is dirt simple. You can put posts in the ground, put metal pegs into it, wrap a rope around a tree branch that is hanging over it and tie it to a treadle. That’s pretty much what they did. Then they went into heavier frames. They knew that the heavier the lathe, the more stable everything is, the better the wood turns.”
In order to move their trade indoors, crafters left behind the trees and created a pole to tie the rope to, giving them more control over the height of the lathe.
Following in the footsteps of countless woodworkers before him, Jenkins created his own spring-pole lathe, as well as all the tools he uses with it.
“I made the lathe, I make the tools,” he said. “I make everything I need to make my product. This is the main thing that I do. I’m also a trained stonemason. Basically, when people ask me what I can do, I say ‘I can build a log cabin from the ground up – a nice hewed log cabin – and put all the furniture in it. Everything a person will need, except for the technology.”
Although he may never make a television or computer on his lathe, Jenkins has found a way to make a very useful modern conveyance.
“Now I can even do the plumbing,” he said. “I can do wooden water pipes. I got a drill that’s about six-foot-tall at the house that I can use to drill pipe.”
Jenkins comes from a long line of woodworkers and stonemasons and grew up learning his craft.
“My dad [Clyde] makes white oak baskets, and he’s also a trained stonemason,” he said. “My whole line of family, as far back as we can tell, has been stonemasons. My granddad worked with wood. He could make a chair with just a pocket knife and a drill. My dad and my uncle’s highchair at their house – my granddad made it with a drill and a pocket knife.”
Jenkins remembers watching the men of his family hewn their creations.
“When I was two-years-old and I was watching them in the shop working, when I’d pick up a knife, they wouldn’t say ‘no put that down, it’s too sharp,’” he recalled. “They gave me a dull knife of my own and they’d say ‘here, there’s a scrap pile, help yourself. Make whatever you want to out of it.’ From there it just progressed.”
In school, Jenkins was encouraged to develop his craft and by sixth grade, he began selling his baskets.
“In high school, when everybody started to get jobs, I’d take a couple baskets to school, work on them during the day and sell them before I got done with them,” he said. “I’d take them home, finish them and bring them back the next day and sell them to the teachers.
“I’ve never had a full-time job where I sat down and actually got paid for just being there,” he continued. “I’ve always relied on my woodworking and my stonework to get me through things.”
Local artists sharing their art included Marcia Laska, Retta Blankenship and Suzanne Stewart.
Laska, who makes herbal salves for all kinds of ailments, did not demonstrate, but she did share samples and her knowledge of medicinal herbs found in Pocahontas County.
Blankenship showed the many styles of bookbinding she learned at a seminar last year. The books are hand-sewn creations featuring covers made from leather and decorative papers.
Stewart showed the art of bobbin lace, another ancient craft that traces back to 15th century Europe. While lacemakers use bobbins to make delicate and intricate tablecloths, napkins and dress accents, Stewart takes a modern twist by creating vibrantly colored bookmarks.
The weekend culminated with a demonstration by Clyde Jenkins, who creates baskets out of white oak wood.
The Green Bank Gallery is open Thursday through Sunday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. For more information in the gallery and its artists, call 304-456-9900 or visit the website at www.greenbankgallery.org
Suzanne Stewart may be contacted at email@example.com