John Topham - Featured Artist April 2020
John Topham is a Summerland fine woodworker. He studied fine arts at the Kootenay School of Art.
When his studies were finished, he taught pottery in Yukon and Labrador, with an emphasis in wheel work, hand building and glazing techniques. As his artistic vision evolved, his interests moved from pottery to turning wood and moved from vertical to horizontal. An abundance of hardwood ensured that medium became his principal interest. Initially, he found the techniques of wood turning somewhat challenging but has since mastered the nuances of wood and its characteristics. Mentored by world renowned wood turner Richard Raffin, John developed the skills and knowledge required to produce functional turned work.
The bulk of John's work is utilitarian, using local hardwood trees that have been discarded and salvaged. His contemporary pieces are more frequently crafted through inspiration and motivation.
His work has been sold throughout Canada, the US, the Caribbean, Europe and Asia and is available at his local studio and the Summerland Community Arts Council Gift Gallery. He is currently instructing wood turning workshops in Mozambique for the local artisans.
Visit John's website to learn more about his work!
Q & A with John Topham
Q – Where do you find your material?
A - For the most part, my pieces are turned from local trees that have fallen as a result of rot, disease, or age. I turn only hardwoods, which are not indigenous to the Okanagan Valley, so I use trees that were once planted as landscape ornaments. When mature they may yield up to 40 or 50 pieces, depending on the size and integrity of the tree. Slabbed, roughed out, and stored for three months, the bowl blanks are then ready for final shaping, turning, and finishing.
Q – Do you do custom work?
A – I will turn bowls of a specific size and design on request.
Q – What’s your favourite wood to work with?
A – The wood I choose depends on my need. Hardwoods are a pleasure to turn, and they sand and finish very well. Large grain hardwoods are a challenge to sand as the growth rings tend to be harder, consequently the softer wood creates a ripple surface. Unless it’s intentional, this is not an appealing finish. Woods in the walnut family turn well. Their tight grain and high density are very appealing. They produce minimal dust and consistent shavings—when given a choice, I turn all my walnut stock before the maples and oaks!
Q – What kind of finishes do you use?
A – Lacquer base sanding sealer has become my preference for finishing. I sand with 220 grit and one or two applications of carnauba wax. Wiped and buffed that produces a show piece. Sometimes I use wood bleach as an effective method of reducing mold stain but caution is required as the bleach is caustic. Neoprene gloves are a must. Occasionally more than one bleaching may be required, depending on the intensity of the mold.
Q – How should I care for my bowl?
A – As with most natural wood products, they tend to lose their lustre, they flatten or fade. Direct sunlight will affect the finish. An occasional wiping with mineral oil will bring back the original patina. Salad oil finished bowls will show markings from salad dressing—again, a mineral oil wipe will even out the original finish.
Humidity can also affect the wood, especially during winter months. The wood may contract, creating minor physical changes. As humidity increases the bowl should come back to its original shape.
Wood pieces should not be immersed in water. For general cleaning, a damp cloth with soap on it will adequately clean the bowl. To bring up the lustre, use a light wipe of mineral oil.