Growing up in Germany, Helga Winter never imagined becoming an artist of any kind, much less a woodturner. “When I was a child, I did a lot of knitting and crocheting, but it wasn’t considered art because it was practical,” she says. “When I left school, I worked as a doctor’s assistant.”
Winter moved to Austin, Texas, at age 23, to study special education at the University of Texas, then headed to Nashville, Tenn., where she earned an M.A. in Child Development from Vanderbilt University. “While I was looking for a job, I apprenticed with a fine-furniture maker,” she says. “After I went to a weekend woodturning workshop with David Ellsworth, who is a well-known woodturner, I became a woodturner.”
She makes her pieces, which include vessels and sculptures she calls Spheroids, in her studio in Port Townsend, Wash., where she moved in 1987. “I had three people tell me how much Washington state was like Germany, much more so than Texas or Tennessee, and that I should take a look,” she says. “I arrived in Port Townsend one beautiful September and I decided to stay.”
To craft her pieces, Winter works exclusively in reclaimed green madrone. “People give me most of my wood,” she says. “The trees aren’t cut down because I want them. They’re left over from someone else’s project. I’ll take my saw to a tree I’ve been given or sometimes one appears in my driveway. I cut it into blanks, which I fasten to the lathe.” After she finishes some of the pieces, she applies dyes and patterns to the surface, transforming the appearance of the wood.
The 8-inch by 7½-inch by 4½-inch bowl (pictured, right), like all of her pieces, goes through more than one transformation as she works it on the lathe because the green madrone still has moisture in it. “I like the organic look of the wood and the change that happens as the green wood dries,” she says. “You can see it become harder and change in texture. I like everything about working with wood, from the coarseness of the chainsaw all the way up to the fineness of the texturing.” Winter’s bowls range from $95 to $2,500, depending on size and design. The V-shaped bowl (pictured, left) is made exclusively from madrone, while the smaller bowl is given its texture with layers of acrylic paint, wax resist and dye.