Turning wood or metal on a lathe to create furniture or works of art is nothing new. It’s a practice that stretches back to ancient Egypt around 1300 BCE or so. A lathe is a machine that turns an object about an axis, while also turning it against a tool that shapes it.

I met up with sculptor Grant Ward at Southlight Gallery in downtown Jacksonville. Ward does all of his sculpture work on a custom lathe that he co-designed. The work he does is all about naturalism. He can only alter the wood’s form so much until it breaks, therefore he must work closely with the natural state of his medium instead of over manipulating it. It’s a very ebb and flow like process, especially working with the wood as it turns on the lathe. For Ward, it is almost like a meditation.

“Turning is so grounding; I can just be in my own little world. And then once the piece is done, it’s done.” Ward says.

Ward’s sculptures are vessels, some vase-like, but each unique in their form. Some have intricate series of holes that are inherent in the wood, while others are accompanied by cosmic-like patterns of lines in the wood-grain, and some have rich browns, yellows, and reds that steal the show from the art of sculpture itself. Each vessel varies in shape; from wide, stocky bases to long and slender bodies, depending on the original shape of the wood before it was turned.

He makes his sculptures from the burl of a tree. A burl is a sort of knot-like growth found on some trees. They are typically seen as malignant, and begin early on within the roots until they blossom somewhere on the tree. Ward, along with many other woodworkers, do not see them as malignant, though. They remove these growths and make beautiful objects out of them. Ward also works with the crotches of trees – the V-shaped joint where a branch joins the trunk, or another branch – and has many different sculptures from these wooden junctions as well, including a larger piece he’s currently working on.

Ward has been sculpting full-time since the mid-80s. His work ranges in size anywhere from six-inches to six-feet. He was introduced to the world of wood sculpture at a very young age. His father was a woodworker that specialized in furniture and Ward would help him out as a child.

Before sculpting professionally, Ward was an electronic engineer for a large company. And after a few years in this line of work, he became frustrated with the corporate lifestyle. So in 1985, he made his beloved hobby his full-time career.

“People always go to [art] shows and say, ‘Oh, I can do that.’ Well I went to shows and said ‘I can do that,’ and I did it,” Ward says.

For Ward, what it really boils down to is doing what you love. He’s excited by the artistic process, the challenges each project presents, and the gratification of each successful completion.

And when one object is finished, he moves onto the next and so on and so forth.

To see Grant Ward’s work visit The Southlight Gallery at 201 North Hogan Street Suite 100 in downtown Jacksonville, or visit his website at grantward.com.