Ron MacKendrick completed his first wood turning project 58 years ago in a shop class at Hotchkiss High School.
Today he works on his projects in a partitioned-off corner of a former fruit warehouse. Amidst the sawdust and wood chips he crafts high value, exquisite works.
"It is art," Ron says.
That first wood turning project prompted Ron's dad to spend a week's wages, $77 at the time, on a Montgomery Ward lathe for him to use. Over the next 40 or so years of marriage, family, and career building, Ron kept his hand in the wood turning craft, he explains. But he really took it up again in earnest "around 10 years ago, and I've done 461 pieces to date." Since the interview, he has added three additional pieces to this tally.
Each one of his pieces is an authentic work of art; a signed and individually numbered one-of-a-kind produced from the uniqueness of the wood piece he is using, from Ron's talent and planning, and from as much as 100 hours or more of shop work.
One of Ron's favorite woods to work with is pistachio wood from Arizona. "It is hard to work, but it is beautiful and takes finish nicely," Ron said.
There are others on his favorites list: black walnut, catalpa, curly maple, padauk, holly, koa, cherry, red cedar and wenge. "I've run across a few types of wood," Ron says.
Ron doesn't cut live wood for his projects. "To the extent possible I use salvaged or re-purposed wood. It is cheaper and more environmentally friendly." He uses wood from various sources including a tree service and occasional donation's from friends whom he has sometimes gifted with a wood turning from their own donation. He has enough wood in his workshop now to last him the rest of his career, and then some, he estimates.
"I constantly search for new techniques and new designs. The Internet is a primary source, word of mouth, galleries, and other artists are also good sources," Ron said. He gives much credit to a friend, fellow wood turner, and in some ways mentor, Clarence Fivecoate of Delta. "He is the best turquoise inlay turner that I have ever seen," Ron says, and acknowledges that he also learned the technique of hollowing from his friend.
Ron is happy to share what he himself knows about wood turning with any others who are interested. "Everything I know I've learned from someone else."
The craft requires some intense concentration and can be tedious at times. Ron readily admits, "It isn't for everybody." But the payback is significant; if not in money (he estimates about minimum wage earned on a piece) but in personal values which Ron calls the "therapy aspects" of wood turning.
"I try to build in as much 'wow' factor as I can. When someone sees a piece in a gallery, stops and says, 'Wow,' then I have done my job," Ron said. The "wow" factor was definitely apparent in a piece donated for a charity auction last year. The piece earned an "artist's choice" and brought a bid of $1,500. But most of Ron's works sell in a more modest price range of $250 to $500, and up, he said. He sometimes donates pieces to other charity auctions.
Ron and his wife, Judi, are both natives of Delta County; Ron of Hotchkiss and Judy of Cedaredge. They recently celebrated their 56th anniversary. They have six grown children, some of whom live in other parts of the county. Nevertheless, they remain a close knit family and Ron said they all manage to get together at Christmastime every year in Denver.
Ron shows his work at area galleries: The Blue Pig at Palisade, Willow Creek Herb and Tea Shop in Grand Junction next to Rockslide, and Redstone Art Gallery.
Ron has a website that displays much of his work and which also includes demonstration shots of how he creates the unique and intricate designs in some of the pieces he makes. The site is woodart-ron.com.
Ron says, "I also do some wall hangings and western wildlife wood collages."
Ron is open to sharing his art and techniques with others who might be interested because, as he says, "I firmly believe that whatever I've got, I learned from someone else."