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The secrets of woodturning with Claygate craftsman Gregory Moreton

PUBLISHED: 09:34 15 March 2016 | UPDATED: 09:55 15 March 2016

Gregory hard at work in his Claygate studio

Gregory hard at work in his Claygate studio

Archant

In the hands of Claygate craftsman Gregory Moreton, wood can be turned into anything from a fruit bowl to props for the Globe Theatre. Janet Donin puts him under the Surrey Life spotlight...

A bowl within a bowlA bowl within a bowl

Originally published in Surrey Life magazine February 2016

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How did you first get involved in the art of woodturning?

Twenty-five years ago, when I was keen on DIY, my wife gave me a small lathe attachment for my hand drill and I got hooked. When the house overflowed and friends stopped inviting us to dinner in case I brought over yet more turned fruit, I began selling through craft fairs. Fast forward 10 years, I took voluntary redundancy and I began my life as a full-time artist.

What was it that attracted you to working with wood?

Wood is a living substance like nothing else – so each piece is different. Plus, when I started out we had little money and wood literally grows on trees!

Where do you find your inspiration?

Mainly from nature. The shapes that you find in nature suit a natural substance like wood. But in art, everything is inspiration for everything else, so ideas can come from anywhere.

Talk us through the turning process...

I start with a lump of a natural material. I can guess more or less what it is going to be like inside, based on its species. The process of turning is organic, as I work to produce the shape I want. If I have timber from someone’s beloved tree for a keepsake, I will study the wood and roughly turn it to the right shape before finishing. But if I’m turning chair pieces for the prop master at the Globe Theatre, everything has to be precise. It’s a technical challenge to produce exactly what is needed.

Which woods do you like the best?

All the timber I work with is ethically sourced, either from a tree that had reached the end of its life or is being re-purposed. I love to work with woods that are utterly unique – like yew. When water enters the sap of a damaged tree, it streaks the normally orange/white wood with deep purple. Wood from a monkey puzzle tree is interesting – I’ve turned this into a number of bowls – and plane trees from London Parks are often riddled with shrapnel as they got used for target practice during the wars. These unique trees with a vivid history are what I really love.

Can you recall your first piece?

Yes – and I still have it! I made a spurtle: a Scottish stick for stirring porridge from an old broom handle. It is still in the kitchen drawer and still in use.

Do you have a favourite design?

I’m quite pleased with my current Conundrum series. The form looks a little like a trumpet but open at each end and has no right way up – it’s pure art for art’s sake. I also make an Oyster Bowl, where the sphere balances on the lip of a flattened ovoid – just like a pearl on the oyster.

Describe your workplace to us…

I converted my garage into my workshop, where I have two large Vicmarc lathes plus a bandsaw and grindstones. It’s also a wood store with more stacks of partially-dried wood outside.

Anything new on the horizon?

New work tends to find me and I look forward to whatever challenges that brings. Recently, I was approached to help in the restoration of an authentic Romany caravan and made the chicken cage for the side!

What’s the best thing about your job?

The best and the worst is being my own boss. I can set my own hours but there’s no-one to blame if it goes wrong! However, I love the variety as no day is the same.

Finally, what is your favourite thing about living in Surrey?

We are so much in the middle of everything and yet I can be deep in the countryside with no mobile phone signal. Perfect! w

 

• Contact Gregory on 07958 730965 or see his work at the Surrey Guild of Craftsmen’s gallery in Milford. For his courses, visit learntoturn.co.uk

 

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