Alina Niemi


Alina Niemi won a Leila Twigg-Smith Art Scholarship Award in 2007. She traveled to Anderson Ranch Arts Center in Colorado to take an Introduction to Woodturning class, taught by Alan Lacer. There she learned the basics of turning safety, tool use, sharpening, spindle work, and how to make a lidded box. She also had a bit of a fright when the black dumpster she spotted in the distance turned out to be a black bear, heading her way, between her and the dorm where she was staying!

Her essay (below), A Time for Every Turner, was published in a recent book, Woodturning Today: A Dramatic Evolution (Celebrating the American Association of Woodturners 25th Anniversary, 1986-2011.) The book is an in-depth, thorough account of the history of the AAW and includes essays and stunning full-color photographs of what falls under the enormous woodturning umbrella, including colored, textured, carved, pierced, and abstract pieces -- some of the most inspiring, beautiful work out there.

In addition to a piece by Alina and her father, Ed, there are also pieces by Hawaii’s own Sharon Doughtie and Pat Kramer in the book.

You can find a complete review of the book at: www.woodturninggifts.info/



A Time for Every Turner
by Alina Niemi

After my mother's unexpected death, I was worried that my father, then 79, would plunge into another deep depression, which had happened a few times previously. Prevention meant involving him in something enjoyable that he would continue, so I signed both of us as members of our local AAW turning club.

He had always wanted to turn and had acquired a set of tools 60 years earlier, as a teenager. He bought a lathe but had made no further progress. This was a logical next step. I figured that since I was likely to inherit the lathe and tools, I might as well learn to use them. Besides, my attendance encouraged his, and turning seemed like the ultimate in green art: reduce the number of trees going into landfills, and re-use unwanted and discarded wood to create functional, beautiful pieces.

Alina Niemi

At our first meeting, we were immediately awed by the turnings in the instant gallery. There were sets of bowls of increasing size, with bark edges, clearly cut from the same enormous piece of tree; urn-like vessels with finials that tapered to almost needle-thin points; a dark poi pounder and base so heavy and shiny that they looked as though they were made from stone; and pens with intricate geometric designs.

This was possible? This is what we were going to do? Amazing.

After the introduction of new members, we discussed new business, including upcoming shows and a demonstration by a visiting professional woodturner. Next we examined the items in the instant gallery and voted on our favorite entries in the club challenge. At each meeting, a challenge is presented, such as: turn a platter, or turn a finished piece without using any abrasives. Interested members have two months, until the next meeting, to attempt them.

I was happy to see there was no "Do Not Touch" rule, unlike at a museum or gallery. Instead, everyone was picking pieces up, turning them over, running their hands across the surfaces, even sticking fingers inside them, examining and admiring the quality of work and the beauty of the wood realized by the objects.

Peacock Bowl

Afterwards, one member demonstrated how to photograph your work. I took copious notes. There were also general questions answered by the more experienced turners, and I scribbled furiously, not understanding anything they were discussing, but assuming it would be important as my father and I continued our learning.

When the meeting was over, we helped ourselves to free wood from the backs of other members' trucks. We left exhilarated and excited to have stumbled into such a world of wonder.

My father began turning immediately, and I jumped on the internet to print out articles to help him, which was all I dared to do. I was too scared to pick up one of those sharp, completely foreign tools. It's a good thing I didn't . . . I repeatedly heard loud bangs and swearing coming from the garage as he forayed this new interest. The slamming sounds kept me far away . . . hearing them was stressful enough; I couldn't bear to watch them happen.

Our persistence paid off. My father completed his first bowl soon after he began his reckless experimentation, and he spent evening hours reading the information I had printed from the web. We discovered this was a hobby where you could easily try out all sorts of gadgets and tools and still want more.

Through the club, I learned about a beginner class taught by Alan Lacer, a teacher and turner with more than twenty years of experience (and coincidentally, the husband of the current AAW president, Mary.) I jumped at the chance to learn from someone who knew what he was doing, so I would not need to un-learn bad habits later. And I certainly did not want to learn from my go-get-'em father!

Alan was an excellent teacher. The first time he had me at the lathe, he put the roughing gouge in my hands, stood beside me, and guided me through my first cut. After he turned the lathe off, I realized how petrified I had been.  I let my shoulders down and began to breathe again, shaking.

As the week-long class progressed, I was alternately frustrated and elated at my growing skills, which seemed to come and go without my control. But I left the class with my first completed bowl, a screwdriver with a turned handle, and a number of practice spindles that showed clear progress: from raggedy cuts that looked more like beaver gnaws, to more flowing, albeit uneven, curves and V-cuts. More importantly, I left with a solid foundation of basic sharpening and turning skills and knowledge on which to build and grow.

Two years later, my father gouges, scrapes and sands for hours every day, sometimes until late at night, much to our neighbors' dismay. But his turnings get increasingly spectacular. He has progressed to vessels made from tiny pieces of wood glued together to form designs. I struggle to find turning time, but still try to participate in club challenges whenever possible. I know that only by forcing myself will I step out of my comfort zone and learn new things.

We've met generous, helpful, creative people who share materials, time, ideas, and energy. We are continually inspired by the work of other turners both at our club and in the AAW magazine. We are blessed to live in Hawaii, where we marvel at the beauty of the tropical woods Nature provides: orangey Norfolk pine, with eye-like knots; creamy pinkish kamani, whose marbled, iridescent patterns change in the light; aptly-spotted pheasant wood; and milo, with browns from beige to dark chocolate.

My father has no time to be depressed these days. He's too busy turning!


Updated July 19, 2011