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A weekly look at creativity, arts, and culture in southwest Michigan, hosted by Zinta Aistars.Fridays in Morning Edition at 7:50am and at 4:20pm during All Things Considered.

Art Beat: Whittler to Woodworker

The artist, in cap and camouflage jacket, holds up three wooden bowls. He appears to be in a workshop, with drawers, tools and other items packed onto shelves and the walls behind him
Jacky Powell
The artist holding three large wooden bowls showing burl lines

Art Beat with Roman Pawlowski

Roman Pawlowski is more than the casual tree hugger. He notices trees. He loves trees. And not just the straight and perfect trees, but especially the ones that twist and turn, scarred and having overcome disease with burls to show the struggle.

Close up of a bowl with irregular edges made from burl wood
Jacky Powell
Close up of a bowl with irregular edges made from burl wood

Pawlowski is a woodworker. Formerly an assembler at Parker Hannifin, Pawlowski now spends all of his time gathering fallen wood and creating bowls and vases he then sells at Kalamazoo markets.

“I was fortunate enough to be creative with my hands,” Pawlowski says. “When I was a teenager, I would always pick up a pocketknife and I whittled and made little things. It kind of progressed from that point. I traveled out west and made jewelry and belt buckles and different things with my carvings.”

A conversation with Roman Pawlowski

The artist spinning wood on his lathe, creating a pile of shavings
Jacky Powell
The artist spinning wood on his lathe, creating a pile of shavings

From whittling smaller items, Pawlowski progressed to creating larger items on a wood lathe that he scavenges from dead wood. When he spots a fallen tree he wants on private property, he asks for permission to remove it and then returns later with the gift of a wooden bowl for the homeowners.

“I get trees that are down or from a tree service or storms or whatever,” he says. “I have a sawmill buddy who cuts lumber and gives me lumber for my bowls and vases. I turn all kinds of things on my wood lathe. There’s an abundance of wood everywhere.”

Once Pawlowski has pieces of wood in hand, he “listens” to each piece to hear what it wants to be, he says.

“If I get a round log, just a round log, I cut it in half,” he explains. “I cut the pith out of the log because that’s where all the distortion and cracking and warping is. I take each half, cut it into a circle, put it on my lathe and spin it around.”

He then hollows out the piece and begins work on forming a bowl. Now retired, he works in his studio full time. Pawlowski sells his wares at the Kalamazoo Farmers Market and various arts and crafts shows and festivals.

Listen to WMUK's Art Beat every Friday at 7:50 a.m. and 4:20 p.m.

Zinta Aistars is our resident book expert. She started interviewing authors and artists for our Arts & More program in 2011.
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