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Bowled Over


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Photograph by Diablo Imaging

Lafayette woodworker Bill Tarleton takes discarded wood—tree limbs, trunks, roots—and transforms it into works of turned-wood art. In Tarleton’s skilled hands, a spare tree part becomes a distinctively shaped bowl that shows off the grain of its wood, be it black walnut, acacia, or silver maple. “My goal is to recycle city trees,” he says. “Hardwood trees that are headed for the landfill can be recycled into something that looks nice.”

The beauty of the finished product makes his work seem easy, but Tarleton’s bowls are the result of a long process of shaping and refining. He says he likes working with tree roots most because of their dynamic grain patterns. Although Tarleton is in his seventies, that doesn’t stop him from grabbing his shovel when a neighbor calls about a promising stump.

Once he’s procured a piece of wood, Tarleton begins working on it with a lathe—he bought his first one at 16 and didn’t replace it until 2004—cutting away until he’s left with a rough bowl with one-inch-thick walls. Next, he coats the bowl with a heavy wax, which prevents warping and cracking. He then leaves the bowl to cure for a year or longer, allowing the wood to stabilize before he does the final shaping and thinning of the walls.

Tarleton says he takes his inspiration from many different mediums, including fine china, ceramic dishes, and gallery pieces. After seeing some Hawaiian koa wood bowls, he found his own projects taking on a similar form. This diversity of influences, along with the unique qualities of each piece of wood, ensure that Tarleton’s bowls are always one of a kind.

Bowls range in cost from about $20 to $150. To order, visit www.billswoodcreations.com, or call (925) 939-8052. 

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