Into the woods with Scott Duncan 

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by Barb Blanchette

Granby is home to many artists and among them is one whose art form gives new life to nature’s fallen sentinels. From the large limbs of the Granby Oak felled by the November 2011 storm, to pieces of a carefully preserved 1000-year- old redwood, North Granby resident Scott Duncan, turns pieces of these trees into works of art. For almost ten years he has been artfully, passionately and literally “into the woods.”

When Scott was a small boy, his father, a carpenter, came home one weekend flourishing a small black walnut sapling from his childhood farm in Oswego, New York. The family planted that tree and as Scott grew, so did that sapling—into a healthy fruit-bearing tree. Many delicious black walnut cakes made by his mother came out of the oven. Eventually that same tree would hold the seed of a truly different kind. When the tree was taken down, enough wood was saved that Scott who had inherited his father’s appreciation for the beauty of wood, decided to make something from it. He spent hours creating small benches from that black walnut tree and gifted them to relatives. Each time a relative received a bench, there was an undeniably joyful reunion between that person and the beloved tree. The reaction he got kindled a spark within him and began a love affair between Scott and a tree! Ultimately those handmade benches evolved into Scott’s current hobby as a woodturner.

Today Scott spends hours in his basement turning and sanding wood from a fallen tree thereby preserving its natural beauty and giving the tree new life in a different form. That new life can be seen in the beautiful bowls and platters he creates. Some pieces of wood, too small for bowls become wine stoppers and pens. Watching this artist create an exquisite bowl out of a chunk of wood is quite impressive. Entering the wood shop, one is struck by the floor-to- ceiling wood stacked here, there, and everywhere. Countless woodturning machines and tools are sharpened and at the ready, and freshly cut wood and piles of spirals and turned wood bits carpet the floor beneath each machine. The wonderful scent of sawdust permeates the room. Half finished bowls snuggle together on tables like little bowl families. Every piece must be thoughtfully and carefully prepared to become a finished bowl or platter and the steps involved are quite fascinating.

After cutting a large chunk from the wood it is turned on a lathe while still green and wet. Cutting tools— gouges, scrapers and chisels—are held by hand and steadied on a tool rest while carving a rapidly turning piece of wood. It is placed in a microwave to hasten the drying and then it is turned a second time. During the turning process the inner beauty of the wood is exposed. Tracks from insects, stains from fungi (spalting) and other inherent aspects can make the piece unique and more beautiful. Sometimes a piece may crack or break during the turning as a result of inherent or other unknown factors and will be used for a smaller finished piece or sadly, discarded. Following the turning process much sanding takes place and of course finishing the piece is last. Every piece is inscribed on the back with the origin and species as well as the artist’s name. Wedding dates, anniversary dates and personal inscriptions may be added depending on the size of the piece

Scott is president of the Western Massachusetts Wood Turners Association where he and his fellow wood turners share valuable information to continually hone their woodturning skills. He devotes much of his time in the shop creating works from the fallen limbs of the Granby Oak tree that is celebrated on our official town seal and is thought to be more than 350 years old—one of the oldest trees in New England. When asked how many commissioned works he has made from fallen trees, Scott laughs as he recalls the many wonderful people who have called or dropped off pieces of their “beloved maple, redwood, copper beech, cherry or oak trees.” He says the list is long but he remembers them all!

Scott recognizes that trees are a beautiful gift of nature and some trees hold emotional connections for families or even entire communities. It gives him great pleasure to create a unique work of art to admire and share knowing the memories it holds within. Scott’s pieces may be found at Granby Pharmacy and Unique Finds in Granby, The Spirited Hand of Canton and Blossoming Acres in Southwick, Mass. You are invited to contact him directly about a project involving your special tree. or 860-413- 9188