Robert is a Colorado native and he & his wife Marjie have lived in Buena Vista for over 50 years. Wood has always been at the core of Bob’s life and careers.
“I have vivid memories of a family road trip. It was 1957, and I was 14 years old. A sign along the road said, "Just Ahead, Woodturning Demonstrations." I pleaded with my Dad to stop. I stared through a glass window as a wood turner created a beautiful Myrtlewood bowl before my eyes. I was hooked. Wood was in my blood.”
Robert continued his interest in wood by obtaining forestry and industrial arts degrees at Colorado State University. In 1972 he established the woodworking program for Buena Vista Public Schools, and in 1978, he opened a fine woodworking & cabinet making business in Buena Vista.
His interest in the aesthetics of wood grain and the creation of sculptural forms led him to pursue woodturning as a fine art. Robert studied under nationally recognized turners, Rude Osolnik of Kentucky's Berea College, Dale Nish of Brigham Young University, Richard Raffin of Australia, and Michael Peterson of Washington State. From 1995-2005 he built and ran the Trembling Aspen Gallery with his wife, Marjie, where he showcased his work alongside other Colorado fine artists.
Now in his 80s, he still wanders the forest looking for big windfall aspen trees and enjoys spending many hours in his studio creating his art.
The Process: from tree to Art
Robert Gray’s studio view of 14,204-foot Mount Princeton and the Upper Arkansas Valley is not only inspirational but is also the source for the aspen trees needed for his art. Robert only uses naturally wind-fallen Aspen wood that is sustainably and locally sourced near his home. Landowners and national forest land provide trees of adequate size to turn pieces of very large diameter. He finds trees that have fallen to the forest floor and have begun the long process of decomposing. Beautiful colors start to appear as fungus spalts through the tree's interior. This process of rot continues for many years. It will most often result in unusable wood, but occasionally, there is a rare combination of intense color and structure worthy of the wood lathe.
“My early days as a forester come into play as I chainsaw the tree into wet aspen blocks weighing over 100 pounds. These heavy blocks of aspen are usually found in challenging terrain, quite some distance from roads. The older I get, the trees seem to get heavier and heavier.”
Once the blocks are in the studio, Robert bi-sects the log and roughs the initial shape. This is followed by a minimum one-year drying time. The survivors of the drying process are rejoined and then formed into the final art piece on the lathe. His approach provides endless opportunities for various vessel shapes that include off-center and hand-carved openings. Occasionally he adds limb inlays to surprise the most observant viewers. Each piece is completed with up to eight coats of water-borne finish that is sanded and hand-rubbed to a protective satin sheen. Finally, Robert signs, numbers, and registers each piece.
“The greatest obstacle to the woodturner's art is the lathe. As woodturners, we are too often trapped into thinking we cannot go beyond the symmetry of the lathe-turned object. We must first think as artists and then determine what tools and techniques we will use to create our art.”
Watch a video of Robert at work...