What can I say, the couple of days I spent with Graeme Priddle were a blast! Especially all the one on one time I got to spend with him in my shop. How did all of this come about, you might ask? Well, it all starts with the fact that I am the Vice President of the Baltimore Area Turners, and it is my responsibility to find the talent for “demo nights” at our club meetings. I received an email indicating that Graeme would be in the area and I immediately started requesting he come Baltimore and be a demonstrator for our Club, and I volunteered to help get him here and be a host for him. Graeme is a vegetarian, and aside from the fact that my lovely wife is a great chef, keeping kosher is perfect for vegetarians. Everything is already separated out for meat and dairy dishes and cookware. It took a bit of work, but we were lucky enough to be able to get him scheduled.
During all the scheduling emails, I asked Graeme if it would be okay if I interviewed him for this blog, and he kindly agreed. I am not going to present you with a lot of back and forth question and answers, and facts about his background, you can read that for yourself at his website, www.graemepriddle.com. (If you are unfamiliar with his work, check this out), so this is more of a story interview.
Sometimes you meet people, and have an instant connection to them the moment you meet them. I feel that way about Graeme. His sweat smile and natural charisma win you over right away. Immediately, I felt like I was back together with an old friend. I picked him up from the train station and he told me about how he broke his jaw not two days before in a bicycle accident. Thank goodness the doctors agreed not to wire his jaw shut! So he informed me that he would have to take all his meals through a straw. My wife, Maia, not to be confused with Maia Leppo his PA, stepped up to the plate and provided him some super liquid meals. Thanks dear!
We got to spend a couple of hours together just talking before the demo, and had some lovely conversations about his native homeland of New Zealand, and about where he draws his inspiration for his work (more on this to come). We got to the demo with plenty of time to spare so he could get set up, and then the demo began. The topic of his demo was “Surface, Surface.” For almost the whole first hour he spoke about New Zealand and the Maori people. It was a fascinating talk and it all led you to understand that his home and his culture were the source for his inspiration. After eight years of production bowl work, he found his “voice”, and it was inspired by his family and the Maori culture. Graeme has had the good fortune to meet and spend time with many great turners, and he explained how he would take a little bit here and there from different artists and help him create new pieces with his own stamp on them.
For the next part of the meeting he demonstrated the actual methods he uses for his surface treatments. Graeme pointed out that although most of his work begins on the lathe, only ten to twenty percent of the piece is done on the lathe. The rest of the work is done with power carving tools, branding (pyrography), and painting. I was really surprised to see how much equipment he uses for any one piece. For carving, he uses a combination of angle grinders, and high speed pneumatic carving tools with a wide variety of bits.
His branding technique for applying surface texture was so cool that I actually bought one of his systems from him. I can’t wait to get start using it! Even his system for applying paint with a toothbrush was really interesting. He has been working on these techniques for ten to twenty years and it really shows on his well thought out and time tested methods. I thought the Demo Night was a real success.
The Next Day
After the Demo we returned to my home and he sat down to a meal of liquid tacos and flan. Both of which went over very well. The three of us talked and shared stories til almost midnight.
The next day, I pretty much had Graeme all to myself. What a treat! Conversation came so easily that the time passed very quickly. He showed me the techniques to create his “boat shape” form, and when we got to a point that we really needed the carving tools, we switched over to bowl turning techniques. Here is the part that just can’t be beat. After years of production bowl work, this man is a master turner, and it was very interesting to see the tools he uses and I got to try them out. Having a master standing next to you guiding you and instructing is such a treat. I especially appreciated learning his finishing cut method using my personal tools and his. Not trying to show off, he showed me how he could make hollowing cuts with one hand just by applying the proper technique. That was way cool!
Next he put together and created a branding stylus for me, and he taught me his branding method for surface treatments. He made a spiral brand for me, and it is really fun to see that flame shoot up and the smoke pop up from other places around the wood.
It was about an hour before he had to leave and we sat together in lawn chairs under a shady tree and had a wonderful conversation. I asked him if he had another “series” in the works. After pausing for a while, he said “no.” Right now, he has too many personal and business issues that need to be sorted out. We both agreed that it is difficult for our creative source to flow with so many outside factors weighing on your mind. Sometime during the course of a conversation I recalled him saying that he is not getting older, but younger. So I asked him, “if you are getting younger, what do you want to be when you do grow up, (and have money)?” It did not take him long to say that he would like a buy a yacht and sail around the world, or buy a 1950’s car and an Airstream and travel around the United States, or New Zealand for that matter, and trade teaching time for time on a lathe. Graeme has been hit hard by the world wide recession, like many other artists, but overall, he feels optimistic. He has a year’s worth of commissions to work on and new opportunities are popping up.
I count myself lucky to have spent time with Graeme. He has an amazing circle of friends and travel experiences and stories, and he has a truly creative soul. Not only did he make me a better turner and artist, time with him makes the world a better place.