Sally Ault: Turning Wood into Many Shapes ... in a Lot of PlacesComments (0)
When I first visited Sally Ault’s website and looked through her gallery, I was impressed by the variety of her work and especially fascinated by a Sea Urchin Box with a Walnut Lid and Shell Finial … and by a photo of a lathe set up on a beach by the ocean.
I later learned that the
photo was taken during one of her many trips with her late husband, Barry, to
Baja, California, in the motor home that Barry built from a bus.
I had only heard about Sally a few days earlier when Woodcraft learned that she was the Grand Prize Winner in a drawing at the 2017 Penturner’s Rendezvous, held in conjunction with the Utah Woodturning Symposium. Since Woodcraft donated the prize, a Rikon Mini Lathe, I was assigned to write a press release to announce her selection as winner – and that she, like her 2016 predecessor, had decided to donate her lathe to a veteran in the Turn Around for Vets program organized by the San Diego Woodturners. She and the 2016 winner Brian Saunders are members of the club and volunteer with Turn Around for Vets.
Sea Urchins and Wood Boxes
After I learned that she was born and raised in San Diego, I suspected her proximity to the ocean had inspired the Sea Urchin series of boxes that attracted my interest. I was correct, and in my later interview she explained:
“I love the sea. I have always lived close to the water, and beachcombing is one of my favorite things to do. Sea Urchins are beautiful, and I wanted to do something with them other than make a Christmas ornament, so I came up with the idea of using the Sea Urchin shell as the outside of a small box. I turn an insert, lid and foot or pedestal so that the box is functional and stronger than it looks. It took me quite a while to figure out how to stabilize the shell and make it possible to add the wood parts. Sea Urchins only look symmetrical – they aren’t – so fitting the wood pieces into the shell is a different challenge on each one.”
PHOTO: A Sea Urchin Box similar to this one won a Purchase Award at the 2012 Small Image Show at Spanish Village Art Center in Balboa Park.
Weaving, Jewelry Design, Ceramics … And Woodturning
San Diego State College, Sally focused on weaving, jewelry design and ceramics
and graduated with a BA degree in art, with a crafts emphasis. She was also
introduced to woodturning in a furniture class, but it was not until years
later, in 2001 when she took a quick class in woodturning, that she got serious
about turning wood.
In her bio, written in 2010, Sally shared, “I enjoy all types of woodturning, but currently my focus is on lidded containers, including the Sea Urchin series, open bowls, embellished pieces and jewelry.”
PHOTO: Dyed Maple Bowl
Asked if her focus has changed, Sally said, “That is a pretty wide range of items, and yes I still do all of those … I am doing more lately with altering surfaces through texturing, carving, sandblasting and adding color. It’s fun and I am pleased with some of the final pieces.”For her embellished pieces, Sally said she carves into the wood with abrasive blasting, carving tools and/or texturing tools on the lathe before adding paint, dye, stain or other materials to the surface.
Carved and Burned Wood Insert Box
“I also create cabochons out of wood to insert into the lid of boxes, but they look like stone when they are finished.”
Asked whether her college study in ceramics and weaving had any impact
on her turning, Sally said, “Ceramics definitely influenced my turning, since
the forms are similar. Many turners study pottery and ceramics from many
centuries for inspiration.”
Weaving, however, really hasn’t influenced her turning, Sally said, except that she uses fiber in some of her jewelry pieces.
pieces are mostly created by turning wood shapes on the lathe and combining
them with other materials,” she shared.
Wood and Brass Beaded Necklace
Turquoise, Maple and Silver Pendant
New Award to Add to Sally’s Collection
is a pretty prestigious show,” Sally said, “and I almost didn’t enter the piece
that won, since historically that category has always been won by large pieces
and mine was not large.”
Sally has won other awards at Design in Wood: in 2016 a second place for a Hau, Blackwood and Fan Coral Hollow Form with Root (pictured below), which also won the San Diego Woodturners Association Annual Award; in 2011, the San Diego Woodturners Association Annual Award for a Maple Hollow Vessel; and in 2010 Best in Class for a Myrtle Wood Platter. “I also won many honorable mentions before finally winning a good award,” Sally said.
In the annual Small Image Show at Spanish Village, her Sea Urchin Box won a Special Purchase Award in 2012 and her Box Elder Burl and Coral piece won an award in 2014.
Showing and Selling
Sally is part of Studio 38, a co-op gallery located in a group of 37 artists’ studios in the Spanish Village Art Center in Balboa Park, a section of San Diego. “It is a wonderful creative atmosphere,” Sally said. “We get people from all over the world visiting Spanish Village. Most of the pieces I have there are smaller, since people love to buy something beautiful but it has to fit in their luggage!”
There are 10 wood artists in Studio 38 … 5 are turners. “We take turns
being ‘on duty’ there, and I love talking about wood to the visitors. I have a
small Bonnie Klein lathe that I use when I am there (because I can actually
carry it myself); it has a swing of about 5" so I mostly make tops, small
vases for dried weeds, and pens on it, but our visitors love to see turning
“I also have work at the Mingei International Museum in Balboa – in their Collectors’ Gallery, pieces in the gift shop at Anderson Ranch Arts Center in Colorado, and work at a local gallery that creates wonderful natural edge tables.” Sally said. “I also sell my work at shows put on by my local Point Loma Artists Association.”
Learning and Sharing
As she developed her craft, Sally’s work was shaped through workshops and demos with some of the best turners in the world. “I have taken inspiration or techniques, which I am able to use in my own work,” she said. “The list of those whose work inspires me is long and impressive – too long to mention them all.”
of Sally’s workshop-type experiences that she describes an “amazing 10 weeks”
was her selection in 2013 for a residency at the prestigious Anderson Ranch
Arts Center in Snowmass, Colorado.
were encouraged to push our limits and not to worry about producing anything … just
learning and experimenting,” Sally shared. “I spent many, many hours at the
lathe, as well as in the ceramics and sculpture studios, just making anything
that came to mind. The freedom really helped me when I returned home to
try things and not be afraid to fail. The freedom to not worry about failing
actually increased my productivity. I think because I tried many new things
that I might not have tried before, I became a much better turner.”
also observed, “The many, many hours on the lathe also increased my tool skills,
and the interaction with the 13 other residents in 7 media was invaluable as
well. People who are not turners will see something in your work very
differently, and it is something every turner should take advantage of.”
Sally continues to attend workshops and symposiums to learn from and share with other turners, and she is also a presenter at workshops and demonstrations.
In 2016 Sally was a featured demonstrator at the American Association
of Woodturners Annual International Symposium in Atlanta, and this year she was
on two panels at the symposium at Kansas City, Missouri, in June. In the next
few months, she will be doing demos in Oregon, Michigan and San Francisco. So
far next year she will be demonstrating in
Vancouver and will teach at the Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts in
Gatlinburg, Tennessee, in September.
In the photo below, Sally tries to use a 5,000 year lathe design left-handed, while her right hand is moving the wood using a rope bow during World Wood Day. Although the Chinese man who demonstrated it had no trouble, Sally said she found it amazingly difficult and completely humbling! This annual international event that celebrates the key role wood plays in a sustainable world was held in Long Beach, California, this year.
Woodturning and Family
Sally is the only woodturner in her family, although her grandson Colin is interested in turning. He turned a pen at 7 and has turned a baseball bat and pens for his parents at Christmas and for his teacher each year.
late husband did turn a few pieces, but she said he preferred to create in
different ways. “He made parts for his boat, built a motor home, sailed, surfed
and windsurfed, but he also helped me by fixing anything that broke. He made
and modified some tools for me and generally supported my addiction to
woodturning in any way he could! He did finally put me on wood restriction though.”
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