Tommy kicked off Season 6 of Rough Cut with a trip west to visit David Marks, a woodworker & teacher with a real knack for turning and veneers.
Marks has been around the woodworking block a time or two. He opened his Santa Rosa, CA shop in 1981 and began humbly earning himself a reputation as a master woodworking artist. He hosted “Woodworks”, an HGTV and DIY Network series that lasted 91 episodes, had his work profiled in Woodwork Magazine, and graced the cover of the prestigious Woodturner magazine.
As guest on Episode 1, Marks and Tommy turn a vase from big leaf maple burl and African black wood, with a patina silver gilding that is almost beyond description.
We reached out to Marks to learn more about his process and his philosophy:
You describe your work as a fusion of ancient Egyptian, African, Art Nouveau, Art Deco, and Asian. Which of those has the strongest influence on your work? What piece best showcases this?DM: I would say definitely the Ancient Egyptian artifacts from the tombs of Tutankhamen and others have been the biggest influence on my designs. The piece that best showcases that influence is my Ancient Egyptian Inspired table. In my wood turning collection, my “Alchemist’s Vessel” ( 20 inches tall on the ebony stand) best showcases some of my Egyptian influences.
Do you have a favorite David Marks piece? If so, which is it and why?
DM: I would have to save that the two I just mentioned are my two favorite pieces I have made because they both are very sculptural.
You filmed 7 seasons (91 episodes) worth of Woodworks, the show that aired on the DIY Network. If you were to choose one episode to introduce a newcomer to the series, which one would you choose and why?
DM: I would choose Episode number #507 “Contemporary Dining Chair” because without a doubt, chairs are the most challenging piece of furniture to design and build. So you might ask, why would I choose the most challenging piece of furniture to introduce someone to my 91 episodes? It’s because the person will learn about my approach, my attitude, and my belief system about designing and making furniture.
I was able to take lots of weekend classes throughout the 1980’s and 1990’s with Masters including Sam Maloof, James Krenov, and Art Espenet Carpenter, all of whom are no longer with us and all of them shared similar beliefs about furniture making.They taught that one should begin by creating their own designs, making full scale drawings, making full scale mock ups, selecting and milling their own lumber and being involved in every step including doing the finish themselves.
This is how I work and how I teach. Also, even though they were each unique in their own way, I found they all liked curves in their designs.
I have designed several chairs in my career utilizing a lot of curves. Curves take the discipline of woodworking to the next level.
How are you splitting your time between teaching and creating? Do you find that the former informs the latter?
DM: Teaching and creating are definitely a balancing act. I get very enthusiastic when I teach because I’m excited about sharing ideas,designs,techniques and woods with people that truly appreciate what I have to offer them.
Creating is what drives me and I am compelled to work as much as I can. I find designing and building things out of wood, to be something that I am obsessed with. Solving problems concerning construction of various elements drifts through my mind as I try to fall asleep at night and haunts me constantly.
Yes, teaching does have a reflection called learning, the two go together like day and night. As I teach, I find myself continuing the puzzle solving process and I try really hard to find ways that get through to my students so that I’m not just mouthing words that float away. I go inside myself and think about my own challenges of attempting to understand why some techniques work in certain situations and don’t work in others. As I learn to articulate my answers to students questions, I’ve discovered an excellent side effect.
The side effect is that I have also explained it to my own mind in a clear way so I understand the techniques better and my own work improves as a result.
You offer phone consultations in addition to your classes and private lessons. What are those like?
DM: The telephone consults have worked very well and many people thank me for helping them find the bridge that they needed to cross.
Wood working can be very technical due to the fact that wood is a hygroscopic material which constantly moves relative to the humidity levels in the air that it is exposed to. Most wood working manuals are very helpful for insomniacs who need to find a way to fall asleep. I have read a lot of them (while drinking many cups of coffee) due to some of the very complex and challenging jobs that I have taken on during my over 4 decades of woodworking and I have accumulated a lot of technical knowledge that has been very helpful to my fellow woodworkers.
It’s great when someone thinks to invest a nominal sum and consult with me and I am able to help them avoid a disaster or help them solve a problem so that they can continue on.You played a pretty big role in Burning Man last year, helping to build the iconic Temple of Grace. What was that process like? How did you find the whole Burning Man experience to be?
DM: Burning Man is quite an amazing adventure. It’s definitely not for everyone and you might even call it an acquired taste. To begin with, the working and living conditions are pretty harsh. The temperature can rise to over 100 degrees during the day and drop to 34 degrees at night. It’s very easy to become dehydrated and disoriented. There are sudden dust storms with winds kicking up to 70 miles per hour knocking down unsecured structures and causing white out conditions.
It takes us out of our day to day routines and places us in totally unfamiliar surroundings with strange people who are surprisingly friendly.
I have been interested in Burning Man for a couple of decades due to the amazing art and out of the box creativity that it is famous for.
I met David Best in 2014 and offered my services doing gold leaf work and David decided to place me in charge of gilding the domes atop the Temple of Grace. It was quite an honor.
It’s a learn as you go experience and I learned that we were short on time building the Temple in Petaluma CA, so we had to complete the domes and do the gold leaf work in the desert. I worked in an empty 40 foot long trailer and had to do most of the work at night with my 14 various assistants,because it was over 100 degrees inside the trailer during the day.Working at Burning Man, as opposed to simply purchasing a ticket and being a tourist, is really the best way to go if you want to be a part of the whole experience. There are no TV and no internet connections and most people camp together in groups. These various Theme camps usually cook dinners and everyone gathers together to share meals.
This experience is very different from modern living where most people are isolated in their own homes where we tend to be over exposed to TV, telephones, emails, text messages, newspapers, radios and countless distractions that effect our senses.
Burning Man can be viewed as an unique opportunity to experience art in a totally different setting where the individual can interact with the art.
Check out the Episode teaser below, and look for the full episode on your local station guide.