Imagine crafting a piece of art without being able to really see what you’re creating, only having the vision in your mind to go on. That’s exactly what Portland woodworker Ben Carpenter does when he carves his vessels and sculptures. “After I’ve turned the basic vessel shape on the lathe and hollowed it out, I sit down in a chair with my hand-held power carver and start carving away at it,” says the 23-year-old. “But during the whole process it looks really rough and you can’t see the grain until you put the finish on, so you have to be confident that it will turn out the way you want it to.”
And Carpenter’s pieces usually do. A recent trip to Costa Rica’s coast inspired the woodworker to create Cocoon (left), made from straight-grain maple culled from a tree that was cut down in a vacant lot at N.W. 22nd Ave. and Lovejoy Street in Portland. “I spent a lot of time on the beach looking at seashells,” he says. “I really liked the cowrie shells, which have these comblike features near their openings. So I carved three comblike ridges spiraling up this piece.”
Carpenter, a Moscow, Idaho native who got his start in woodworking at 14 when he and a friend formed an exotic-wood yo-yo making business, fine-tuned his craft as a teen under the tutelage of his neighbor, a fine woodworker. He now works with his own apprentice, Cody Powell, in a 900-square-foot shop along the Willamette River. “I really love the smoothness of this artform,” he says. “I like putting the chisel to the spinning wood and seeing it slice off in smooth shavings. It’s different from any other type of woodworking.” Carpenter’s vessels range from $300 to $700; his sculptures range from $500 to $3,500. Cocoon costs $1,800.
E-mail woodworker Ben Carpenter at [email protected] to set up a studio visit. You can see his work on his website, conjureworks.com, and at Eco PDX (2289 N. Interstate Ave.; 503-287-8181) in Portland.