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Dunn Sohn ~ Artist Profile
turning* When he first started turning bowls from spalted wood in the '70’s, Dunn Sohn was one of the first wood artists to experiment with this intriguing material formed by unseen organisms. To quote from the website of the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, “The lines of spalted wood can be so intricate that it looks as though they were penned by an ancient calligrapher…The possibilities for spalted wood products are limited only by imagination and ingenuity.” And that explains why Dunn Sohn continues to turn beautiful bowls, artistic wood sculptures and wall decorations from spalted wood.

At first he spent a lot of time with prospective buyers explaining the natural biological process that creates the complex and idiosyncratic patterns that make this wood so attractive and yet so challenging for artistic purposes. Even though the word still doesn’t show up in most dictionaries, the market for the random beauty of spalted wood has grown to the point that today you can find online tutorials explaining how to “spalt” your own wood. Dunn prefers the naturally occurring kind.

Sohn’s desire for independence was the driving force behind his decision to parlay his woodworking hobby into a career. It’s possible that sometimes his penchant for doing it “my way” costs him avoidable time and effort, but in the long run, it helps him preserve his spontaneity and originality.

“I love to find an elegant solution to a problem,” he explained. A good example is the evolutionary process he used to design his signature rocking chairs. His goal was to build a beautiful, comfortable rocking chair that would last for generations. He designed his first prototypes to combine comfort with a form that shows the wood to best advantage. Then, “I did a lot of comparative sitting”. He also made the press that he uses to form their ergonomically successful “S” curved backs. “I could have spent a lot of money buying equipment, but it was much more satisfying to figure out how to convert a standard car jack into a very efficient tool that does precisely what I need it to do.”

Although he values his independence as an award-winning woodworker, Sohn is an integral part of the large, nurturing artistic community that exists in the area surrounding Perth. He is a founding member of the artists cooperative that created Cornerstone Crafts in Kingston and a longstanding participant in the annual Perth Autumn Studio Tour at his workshop and home in Maberly. He is also the creator of their outstanding website at perthstudiotour.com.

Sohn has spent the past several decades applying his boundless imagination and ingenuity to create a never-ending variety of functional and decorative wooden objects. His willingness to tackle the unusual is evidenced by the dedication chair he built to honour a departed member of a Masonic Lodge. He carefully executed detailed specifications to capture the exact symbolic tribute his clients envisioned, and the chair remains a lasting testament to their relationship.

About three years ago some Toronto designers were admiring his work at a show and started brainstorming different ideas about how you could incorporate the beauty of wood into a new restaurant that one of them was building. When one of them asked, “You couldn’t do sinks, could you?”, Sohn thought about it for a minute and said yes. His elegant solution this time was to use a clear and completely waterproof epoxy to protect the wood. He turns the sink bowls out of curly maple or cherry wood, and installs them on turned burl wood pedestals or custom built vanities, leaving most of the outside of each bowl visible. Polished to a glowing lustre, the highly figured wood grain appears almost three dimensional. They are stunning. The response at the first bistro was so positive the designers ordered fifteen more.

Another exotic commission was the creation of a gorgeous customized walnut Scrabble turntable with ball bearings and matching letter holders. It seems that true Scrabble devotees, like many other players of games, enjoy personalizing their equipment. Dunn’s own love of wood made him sympathetic to another unique request - he constructed a four-unit entertainment centre out of “heritage” wood that had special emotional significance for a family, and built it to precise dimensions to meet specific transportation requirements.

Dunn Sohn is a featured artist during the annual Perth Autumn Studio Tour on Thanksgiving weekend. From 10 am to 5 pm, Sat., Sun. and Mon., his large workshop and studio near Maberly (about 25 kilometres from Perth) will host the works of other participating artists as Studio No. 1 on the Tour. This is a fantastic opportunity to see Dunn’s sinks, rocking chairs, bowls, sculptures and fine furniture.

* This article ~ courtesy of Sally Hansen, arts reporter for The Humm.

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