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Dr. John Hemmer has never considered himself an artist, but his woodturning skills have made him one.
The orthopedic surgeon of 37 years began his craft when his wife gave him a lathe, which is a machine used to turn wood. The woodturner holds and shapes the piece of wood as the interchangeable sharp implement spins.
“About 10 or 12 years ago, my wife bought a lathe from a fellow named Willard Baxter, who was a professional woodturner,” Hemmer said. “Jane, my wife, gave me the lathe for my birthday and Christmas one year. I had it set up in my shop and just started turning.”
Recently, one of Hemmer’s woodworks won him an honorable mention in the Quinlan Visual Arts Center’s Members’ Exhibition, which is a showcase designed to honor its members and their work.
“Every member is eligible to submit one piece, so that’s how it’s selected,” Quinlan Visual Arts Center Executive Director Amanda McClure said. “There’s no reflection process to it. It’s just as simple as that.”
Hemmer was surprised his piece titled “Reactor” received honorable mention, mainly because he didn’t even know it had been entered into the show.
“It was an honor,” he said. “It was a little bit embarrassing because I didn’t even know it was there. My wife got that piece and put it in. Until we went that night, I didn’t even know it was there.”
He credits his wife with their involvement with Quinlan and is grateful for the gallery’s contributions to the area.
“I appreciate the Quinlan and the work it does as well as other organizations that are concerned with the arts and our community,” Hemmer said.
Remaining modest, Hemmer still declines his title as an artist though.
“I’m not really an artist,” he said. “I’ve never been able to draw or paint or do anything that I consider artistic.”
But Hemmer can turn pieces of wood into works of art, even though he considers it just “something I enjoy doing.”
“I started doing some woodturning and my wife said I needed to start considering myself an artist, as most people have said so,” he said.
Since his first experience with woodturning, Hemmer said he has learned a little about what it is but still has a lot to learn. He admits he never really knows what his pieces are going to look like.
“I like to go out and just get a piece of wood and put it on the lathe and start turning it and see what it looks like,” said Hemmer, who lives on a farm. “Sometimes, I put a piece of wood on the lathe and I turn it to nothing except shavings. It’s just interesting to me to see what it actually does.”
He explained his piece at the Quinlan is from a spalted maple, which is maple wood partially damaged by a fungus or bacteria.
“It’s like a fungus that gets into the wood and begins to decay it, so it becomes spalted,” Hemmer said. “Different types of wood become affected by bacteria or insects or fungus or whatever, and the wood actually changes color. That spalted maple just has an interesting look.”