Adjunct professor of conservation
- By Megan Morley Thomas
The wood shavings smell like bread dough. They fly off the lathe, covering Ralph Tursini's arms in pale yellow confetti. Tursini again pushes a long steel chisel into the spinning block of black cherry, inward and down. In response, a circle seems to move outward, like a slow-motion ripple in a pool of wood. He's turning a humble bowl from freshly cut wood.
"I like the functional aspect, that people will use this as their everyday bowl," says Tursini after turning off the lathe.
More about Ralph Tursini:
For Tursini, who works as a bowl maker and teaches a one-credit course, Conservation and Wood Turning, each bowl is the artful extension of the UVM degree in forestry he received in 1999. For David Brynn, who directs the new Green Forestry Education Initiative at UVM's research forest in Jericho, the bowls show students one path from forest to finished product. And for the university, these humble bowls make an elegant gift for distinguished visitors.
Three recent speakers at UVM — Laurie David, who produced the film An Inconvenient Truth, Native American activist Winona LaDuke and forest ecologist Jerry Franklin — have more in common than concern for the environment. They all own one of Tursini's bowls.
Humble means modest and unassuming. But it also shares a root with the word humus: of the soil.
For Turisini, humble bowls carry both meanings. Their slightly irregular shape, mottled grain, obvious knot holes and remnant tool marks remind a bowl's owner of the hands that shaped the bowl, the tree that yielded the wood and the earth that bore the tree.
"We wanted to do something that demonstrated for students the value-adding process, like making furniture or flooring," says Brynn
It's his interest in the "tree within the bowls" and understanding of the whole forest that made David Brynn think Tursini would be an excellent instructor in the Green Forestry project.
"Humble bowls say a lot about stewardship — and stand for some of the best and unique parts of this university," Brynn says.