Indyke, Dottie, Southwest Art
AN OKLAHOMA ARTIST CARVES OUT A SPECIALTY IN WOOD TURNING
NATHAN HART MAY BE THE ONLY professional Native American wood turner in the country. A former football star, Hart has coached sports as well as worked to improve the economic status of Oklahoma tribes, but three years ago he chucked the nine-to-five routine for a career as an artist.
"I had a goal early on of wanting to make furniture," recounts the 42-year-old, who lives in Oklahoma City. "But, at the time, the cost of the equipment was so great that I just purchased a lathe and started turning bowls to see what it was like. I found what I wanted in wood turning."
A burgeoning genre, wood turning involves the hollowing of solid logs into sculptural and functional pieces, such as platters, bowls, and vessels with small mouths that mimic ceramic pots. Hart specializes in the latter; his pots range in size from 2 to 20 inches and are made of native Oklahoma woods like pecan, hackberry, walnut, and oak.
His particular interest is in using the burl, or knot, and in spotlighting spalted grain, the unique striated patterns that are the result of moisture trapped inside the wood. He encourages the spalting process by sealing the end of a log with paraffin and storing it under a pile of wood shavings.
Sometimes, the final adornment on his handsome vessels is a single, simple motif borrowed from his Cheyenne ancestors-for example, the symbol for a morning star or a mountain or a lodge-which he carves into the wood and inlays with stone or a contrasting piece of wood.
"For me, the appeal of wood turning is the process of taking the raw material in an untouched state and making something out of it," says Hart. "Wood has interesting grain patterns and characteristics. And it's all nature's beauty."
HART STRADDLES VASTLY DIFFERENT WORLDS. His Cheyenne grandfather and father were leaders of the Indian Mennonite Church, a blend of austere evangelical Protestantism and traditional Native language and practice. His Caucasian mother, who is also a practicing Mennonite, met his father at the church-affiliated Bethel College in Kansas, the state where Hart was born. When he was 2, the family settled in Clinton, OK, on a 50-acre spread a mile away from the nearest neighbor. …