Artist Process Series: Malcolm Tibbetts & Woodturning Art

Malcolm Tibbetts’ woodturning art outside of Marcus Ashley Gallery.

Some dedicated masters have the talent and skill to breathe flowing, dynamic life into a material as harsh and rough as raw wood. This is known as woodturning art — an art technique which shapes wood into curved, irregular shapes.

At first glance, the work of Malcolm Tibbets and other woodturning artists seems like it couldn’t possibly be made out of wood. To further heighten your appreciation for the time and skill that goes into this craft, we want to explain what woodturning is as part of our ongoing artist process blog series. Learn more about this remarkable craft and how it’s made at Marcus Ashley Gallery.

What is Woodturning?

In its most basic form, the art of woodturning involves placing raw wood material on a woodturning machine or lathe, and then turning it evenly to carve and shape it in a circular motion.

You likely have already seen plenty of woodturning art without realizing it. Most wooden bed posts, doorknobs, spindles on railings, and similar round wooden carvings are made using woodturning. Like woodworking in general, woodturning has been around for thousands of years, and some of the same techniques used by our ancestors are still used today — albeit with much more advanced tools and technology.

Carving wood into a round shape takes an impressive amount of skill, patience, and practice. Woodturners need highly specific tools, including a high-quality lathe, to produce the best effect. As an art form, woodturning has a steep learning curve and requires a remarkable amount of technical skill.

It takes a very long time and a lot of dedication for woodturners to start creating high-quality products, and it takes even more time to feel relaxed and comfortable around the lathe and start experimenting with artists’ individual styles. For those who have the diligence and persistence to hone these unique skills, woodturning art can be incredibly rewarding.

Taking Woodturning Further: Segmented Woodturning Artists

As if classic woodturning wasn’t intricate and beautiful enough, some dedicated artists take woodturning much further.

Segmented woodturning involves turning a wooden piece that consists of multiple, sometimes hundreds, of glued-together pieces. This allows the artist to create turned art with endless color variation and patterns that enhance the curved shape of the piece.

Basic woodturning already has its challenges, and segmented woodturning art multiplies them tenfold. For many oddly shaped sculptures, the artist must design and build their own jig to hold the piece into place for carving. The segments must be meticulously adhered to one another for the shape to hold and stay in place, and artists often have to turn to some crafty innovation in order to achieve their desired result.

While segmented woodturning has an enhanced difficulty, it has equally enhanced rewards. A skilled segmented woodturner can produce such gorgeous patterned creations that must be seen to be believed.

Colorful segmented woodturning art sculpture entitled 28 Flavors by Malcolm Tibbetts.

The Unique Woodturning Art of Malcolm Tibbetts

Malcolm Tibbetts is one of the most renowned and respected segmented woodturning artists in the country today. Tibbetts grew up woodworking in his grandfather’s workshop, and he spent his entire life developing his skills. He nurtured a furniture-building hobby that saw his entire home filled with handcrafted furniture.

This hobby turned into an art form after he was fortunate enough to acquire a workshop of tools. After that, he started experimenting with segmented woodworking, and his hobby became a passion. Even with his lifetime of experience in working with wood, segmented woodturning art was a brand new adventure.

Tibbetts uses remarkable imagination and ingenuity to develop his complex structures. His mastery over the craft allows him to create wood sculptures that resemble spiraling knots, stellated dodecahedrons, and Mobius strips. His sculptures are so precise and awe-striking that it’s hard to believe they were created by a man and not a machine.

As a master woodturner, Tibbetts has also dedicated part of his career to instructing future woodturners by creating several instructional videos and participating in educational initiatives and symposiums. His efforts ensure that this rare and intricate artwork will be passed onto future generations. We are honored to have him as part of our local South Lake Tahoe artist community, where he lives full time.

Experience Woodturning Art at Marcus Ashley Gallery

Located in beautiful South Lake Tahoe, Marcus Ashley Gallery is a premier gallery displaying magnificent woodturning art. If you’d like to see what woodturning is in person, we would be happy to invite you in.

On our online gallery, we also have a number of woodturning art pieces available for you to purchase for your collection. Explore our selection and see what fantastic artwork inspires you.