WOODTURNERS OF ST. LOUIS
The American Association of Woodturners had just been created in 1986 and making chips fly off the lathe was a contagious passion growing across the country. That year Dave Skinner, an AAW founding member, addressed woodturning at the St. Louis Woodworkers Guild. The Guild had members that were turners who were always eager to compare notes and learn from one another, but it was Ken Schaefer the driving spirit that united and guided them into forming their own club.
Ken, Dave and Bob Schmitz were three close friends that held informal gatherings in their homes to share techniques, resolve problems and promote anything woodturning. Ken was the Energizer bunny that wouldn’t stop. While everyone else was buried in shavings he plugged away at making the club happen.
In January, 1993, the kick-off meeting was held at the Woodcraft store then located on Olive Blvd, with about 35 attending. In February the club received a charter making it an official chapter of the AAW, and in March was already being considered as a potential site for the 1994 national symposium. (We lost out to Denver.) The momentum was exciting. And by the way, this history is being written in 2013 and three founding members are still active in our club: Herbert Bilgram, John Buehrer, and Gary Johnson. Corner them at a meeting to hear some short or tall tales from the past.
Of great influence on the character of the young club was Leonard “Fletcher” Hartline. Forever the teacher, while Fletch always found something positive to say about the piece you brought to Show & Tell, he likewise always enlightened you with constructive criticism. It was not just show and tell, but show and be told how one could do better, in a way that didn’t intimidate. Okay, some of us reddened a bit, but we were warned in advance. The newsletters clearly said, “(Show & Tell) … is an important portion of the afternoon where questions can be asked and experienced turners can give advice and caution.” And that was good. This give and take inspired the members to strive for excellence.
A famous early member, in case you didn’t know, is Binh Pho. It was here in St. Louis that Binh first learned the technical basics of turning from Fletcher. The tough maestro had him practice the same processes again and again on the lathe. Fletch was “prouder than a mother with a newborn babe” as his prodigy became an internationally known master artist in woodturning. And Binh always marveled that he had come half-way around the world (from Vietnam) to meet his best friend.
Some timeless insights from Mr. Hartline:
– The finish should be as smooth as the back side of a baby.
– You gotta dance at the lathe, move your body with the tool, it’s gotta be a sensuous experience.
– Hold that tool gentle but firm, like you’re hold’n a woman.
Over the years we have presented demonstrations, symposiums, mentoring, shop visits, revolution evolution, and family picnics. We have gone into the community to educate at woodworking shows and public events and have developed a top notch club library to educate our members. Nationally we have created chapter challenges for many of the annual AAW symposiums and won first place more than once. Our history shows our dedication to the advancement of woodturning, the facts attest to that. But it’s what the facts don’t reveal that is the most important of all – the deep friendships that have been formed, and that will be formed, over the tool rest.
The Woodturners of St. Louis have enjoyed a long relationship with Woodcraft and we deeply appreciate their generosity in offering us a place to meet for many years. However, with a growing club we found it necessary to find a new home and in June 2015 we moved our meetings to the St. Louis Carpenters Apprenticeship Program building at 8300 Valcour Avenue in Affton, MO.