Monday, October 19, 2015

Andrew Pearce Bowls

This fall in northern New England has been nothing less than idyllic – the foliage has been uncommonly rich and the hillsides are bathed in color. We’ve had a long stretch of warm, sunny afternoons and cool nights, and the foretelling scent in the air conjures the pleasures of the season to come. These are the days I love to explore the region I am so fortunate to call home and a recent foray took me to the beautiful new showroom of woodturner and bowl maker Andrew Pearce who was kind enough to talk with me about his craft.

Now in his third year of business, Andrew combines the soul of an artist with manufacturing savvy. Discussing his beginnings, he describes an early fascination with bowl cutting machinery that could produce multiple sizes from a single section of wood. "I was really inspired by the efficiency of that...and the technical side." His creative side envisioned the process of hand-turning those rough cuts to add stylistic details and, seeing how he could economically produce a desirable, hand-crafted product, Andrew Pearce Bowls was launched.

What becomes very clear when talking with Andrew is that he is truly passionate about the medium in which he works. The qualities of wood are not uniform; you don't know what you will find when you begin to work with a piece - irregular sap line patterns, color variations, growth anomalies - wood offers up a lot of surprises and Andrew's enthusiasm when pointing these out is evident.

While working primarily with walnut and cherry sourced in Vermont, New York and Pennsylvania, the workshop occasionally produces bowls in other wood species. From time to time local resources bring in butternut or maple. This pair of one-of-a-kind bowls are 'curly' maple - so called because of it's unique growth pattern.

A particularly interesting delivery might be a burl, essentially a deformed tree growth, that can offer extraordinary possibilities. As Andrew described it, however, you don't know what the burl will yield until you begin to work with it. This enormous specimen, found in Pittsfield, Vermont, was transformed into a work of art.

The company's new showroom is located in Hartland, Vermont along the scenic byway between Quechee and Woodstock. Inside the bright and airy retail shop, whitewashed shiplap walls are the perfect backdrop to the luminous wood bowls, boards and accessories. On the day of my visit, they positively glowed as the season’s low-hanging sun filled the space.

Andrew's original product line included these traditional bowls and boards,

A walnut Willoughby bowl 

 A cherry Hartland board

And has grown to include live edge pieces which have had a very positive reception.

 A walnut live edge bowl

A cherry live edge cutting board

A walnut live edge presentation board

Displayed in the showroom, large cutting boards are layered as chargers on a table setting.

The product line is growing to include housewares such as this live edge mirror made from the 'core shell' that remains when bowls have been cut from a section of wood - just one example of Andrew's ingenuity in using as much of the material as possible. Other designs are in the works that will incorporate additional remnants. The shop's offerings also include a complementary selection of table linens, Turkish cotton towels and mohair and lambswool throws.

Among the many one-of-a-kind pieces displayed in the shop during my visit was this monumental, handcarved black walnut bowl with live edges on the long sides.

The short sides show the growth rings of the tree it came from.

Over the summer the company began moving the manufacturing operation to the new location as well and you can now view the bowl turners at work on site and learn about the method of producing these beautiful pieces, from start to finish, first hand.

Steps one and two are the cutting and drying of the bowls. Andrew designed the drying units himself, re-purposing old shipping containers.

Rough bowls awaiting turning.

Following the turning, the bowls are oiled - this is the only treatment the wood receives and it is what brings out the natural color.

On the left, an oiled walnut bowl compared to pre-oiled walnut (top two,) and cherry (bottom two.)

The oil used to seal the bowls is a specially formulated walnut oil that is non-toxic, food safe and allergen-free. The company sells this same oil by the bottle so owners of their products can preserve the natural beauty of wood bowls, boards and utensils which will require periodic reconditioning depending on the frequency of their use.

 Oiled bowls (above) and boards (below) awaiting shipment.

It is always a pleasure to talk with a genuinely talented maker who is not only passionate about his craft but a sincere individual who is committed to support of his local community and sustainable practices. (In the interest of further reducing waste, Andrew is having a wood chip boiler installed that will use any remaining wood scraps to heat the workshop.) I have no doubt those qualities have contributed to Andrew's success. After only three years in business, Andrew Pearce Bowls can be found in 170 retail outlets throughout the 50 states.

Andrew in the workshop.

Andrew Pearce Bowls is located at 59 Woodstock Road in Hartland. If you can't make the trip to Vermont to visit the showroom in person, though I highly recommend it, have a look at their website for a visual treat.