Bert Poling literally "turns" wood into works of artApr 26, 2021 04:16PM ● By Jan Weeks
Bert Poling poses with his artwork in front of the National Monument
It took Bert Poling, 60, many years to finally follow his passion for woodturning. But when he retired three years ago, he quickly made up for lost time.
Legacy of woodworking
The aroma of fresh-cut wood fills Poling’s Redlands workshop, bringing forests to mind. Wood shavings destined to become bedding for hamsters and other critters litter the floor. Wooden bowls, vases and decorative pieces fill almost every surface, letting visitors know they’ve walked into an artist’s realm.
Before turning to art, Poling traveled the world for years as a maintenance superintendent for ConocoPhillips. When his time in the energy industry ended, Poling was drawn back to creating with wood. His father was a woodworker who crafted lovely furniture, and later inspired his son’s love of constructing different exquisite objects. However, Poling insists that he’s not a woodworker, as he doesn’t fabricate his creations with hand tools. But that’s because he literally “turns” out unique works of art on a lathe—a rotating machine for shaping wood.
Poling is self-taught, watching hundreds of hours of YouTube videos before he bought his first lathe. Those hours proved to be well spent. Using a small starter lathe, he made his first piece, a simple bowl. As he gained proficiency, Poling started posting photos of his work on social media, and people noticed.
“Friends started approaching me about buying something,” he said.
His first sale was a bowl made of cherry wood with lapis lazuli (a blue metamorphic rock) inlay work. As demand grew, he made more and more pieces, and his woodworking naturally progressed into its own business.
“It’s not always easy, though, to let a piece go. I get emotionally attached to them,” Poling said. “But I enjoy sharing them. Somewhere along the line, I grew very comfortable with letting them go.”
Last year he upgraded to a swing lathe that can hold a 20-inch diameter piece of wood. In addition to using the trunk of a tree, he’s used burls (large growths that jut out from the tree) and even root balls to make bowls, vases and statement pieces. Poling works with all types of wood. Any fallen tree is fair game, including a 100-year-old pine he found on the Uncompahgre.
Jewel it up
Poling worked with semi-precious stones for many years, and his lapidary hobby adds unique features to his wood pieces. Jars of powdered coral, turquoise, malachite, jet and even coal that he picked up around an old mine line his workbench. He mixes the powder with a special epoxy and uses the mix to fill cracks and holes in the wood. After polishing the filled piece on the lathe, the colors resemble those found in Native American jewelry.
The inlay isn’t just decorative, though.
“It stabilizes wood that has been damaged by insects or rot, wood that might split the finished piece,” Poling explained.
He also uses a pyrography tool (think wood-burning sets) with various attachments and adjustable temperatures to burn complicated designs into wood as well as animal skulls. He started burning designs into gourds many years ago and just recently began to decorate antelope, elk and other skulls with intricate Native American designs.
Woodturning isn’t just a retirement hobby-turned-business; it feeds Poling’s soul.
“It’s calming, creative, and gives me alone time,” he said. “Turning wood is mesmerizing. You can see the transformation occurring. It’s very Zen-like in some respects.”
Besides pleasing the eye and the sense of touch, working with wood and stone makes Poling feel connected to nature.
“It’s fascinating that, in some respects, every piece I create actually already exists inside the piece of wood I started with. I just have to find it in there,” he said.
Poling has shown his work in local galleries during Grand Junction’s Downtown Art Walk and the Palisade Honeybee Fest, as well as many juried shows in the west. When the pandemic put the kibosh on in-person exhibitions, he spent the last year producing pieces in the hopes of being able to start showing them again this summer.
View Poling’s art at www.bertpolingstudios.com. For information, call 623-1941.
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