RUSSELLVILLE In the capable hands of Russellville artist Steven Garrison, ordinary chunks of wood turn into a menagerie of sensually pleasing forms. A wood-turner by profession, he specializes in woods indigenous to Arkansas.
Raised in Russellville by renowned painters Bill and Gloria Garrison, Steven Garrison graduated from Arkansas Tech University in 1995 with a bachelor’s degree in geology. Art classes held little interest for him until he tried woodworking.
“I really had resigned myself to the fact that I couldn’t draw or paint very well,” he said. “In the early ’90s, I made several segmented turnings on the wood lathe, but I soon tired of being restricted to everything I made having a circular cross-section, so I began using other tools and techniques to get around the restrictions of the lathe.”
During a four-year stint working as a geologist for a mining company in Colorado Springs, Garrison began to collect shells he discovered in his line of work. Something about the shape resonated with his wood-turning passions. Soon, he’d developed the shell that would become the foundation of his collection.
He caught the eye of a prestigious Los Angeles gallery, Del Mano Gallery, where he participated in the competitive Flora and Fauna Show.
“That show always attracts the big names in woodwork,” he said. “I was honored to be chosen.”
Returning to Arkansas, Garrison settled in Bentonville and began to immerse himself in Arkansas walnut, cherry, red oak and cedar. He worked as a land surveyor by day until the need to create convinced him to move back to his hometown of Russellville, where he now pursues his art full time.
The shells that first lauded him attention have resonated with people, he said.
“I’ve always liked the form of shells. I saw a lot as fossils in my line of work. The prettiest ones, I think, are the extinct cephalopods called ammonites and the nautilus.”
Garrison turned his mathematical mind loose and devised several means to his artistic end. For the shells, he cuts segmented pieces from a wedge shape of wood.
“The joint lines converge in the center,” he said, “and I cut at a beveled angle, so the grain of the wood really shows.”
Rather than use a traditional lathe, Garrison uses a modified band saw and has created other works of art that have grabbed a lot of attention. He fashions wood helixes, nesting seven spirals inside each other, all cut from the same log.
“People don’t get the helixes until they’ve seen them in person,” he said. “The puzzles, however, appeal to everyone, particularly those with a mathematical bend.”
For his puzzles, a wonder in logistics, he created box jointed tiles and now manufactures them. He makes equilateral triangles, squares, rhombuses and regular pentagons.
“The edges have a snug friction fit together,” Garrison said of the little inventions, which are patent pending. “There are many possibilities regarding the possible shapes. All five of the platonic solids can be made in two different varieties, along with many other regular and semi-regular polyhedrons. The shapes that can be made are not limited to spherical polyhedrons.”
Some of the shapes he fashions to show the versatility of the tiles are foreign to non-mathematical types. On his website are pictured a tetrahedron, cube, octahedron, dodecahedron and icosahedron.
Garrison is a natural teacher and plainly explains his concepts in step-by-step frames on his website, www.stevengarrison.com. The following observation is noted on his site:
“At first glance, this structure appears to be another example of the squareballs shown above — it is not. This structure is an attempt at pentagonal symmetry — and it worked somewhat until I tried to make it larger. The problem is that the angle between sides of a REGULAR pentagon is 108 degrees, and the angle between corners of a tetrahedron passing through the center is 109.5 degrees. This small error can be taken up by the box joints as long as the structure is small. The effect of the error is cumulative, though, and if you were to try to expand the structure further, the joints would pull apart. No stable crystalline structure contains regular pentagons.”
Because his approach is so unusual, Garrison has created e-books, which he sells through his website.
“Everyone loves the puzzles and asks how I manage to create them,” Garrison said. “Part of the reason I’m going in the direction I am is because there are a lot of people who want to learn to make these and the gears I began with.”
Garrison is comfortable with his decisions to pursue his art forms full time, but his unusual talent, when compared to his father’s traditional oil landscapes and his mother’s watercolor still lifes, was hard to spot.
“I had no inkling that he’d grow up to be an artist,” his mother said.
“I just like to make things I haven’t seen before, especially the helix forms,” Garrison said. “I like to be unique.”
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