Graeme Priddle & Melissa Engler Demo

3/25/17

by Bob Hunt

        Graeme’s hi-powered woodburner

The NE Florida Woodturners club had the distinct privilege of a full day of demonstrations by the renowned turners/artists Graeme Priddle and Melissa (Mel) Engler of Half Feral Studio on March 25, 2017.  Graeme hails from New Zealand, Mel is originally from Canada, and they now live in Asheville, NC, and work in the Grovewood Studios, also in Asheville.  Rumor has it that they are planning on building a “tiny house” to live in.  Mel is designing it on skids that will make it easier to load up and move to sunny Florida some day.  Wish they would buy our house so we can move to Asheville!

I won’t waste any time giving all the details of their backgrounds, how they came to turning, where they have exhibited and all the honors and accolades they have both received.  All that can be found on their websites graemepriddle.com & melissaengler.com, and in the many articles that a simple Google search will turn up.  Instead, I want to talk about their art, their personalities and their wonderful relationship with each other.  Why?  Because it was their constant flirtatious banter with each other that set them apart from any other demonstrators we have hosted over the years.

In the photo above, Graeme is saying something that Mel takes some issue with, but she always does so with a smile on her face, and then makes a loving little jab at his ego.  They make constant eye contact with each other.  They exhibit all the signs of a relatively young relationship (I told them to remember these times in 5 years ).  They acted this way for the entire day.  They anticipated each other’s next move, finished each other’s sentences, and freely allowed each other ample time to demonstrate their portion of the project.  Awwww!  And no, you do not detect any jealousy in my comments.  Sandy and I have been married 3.5 years and we still act this way (most of the time).  In fact, half way through their demo, they must have forgotten we were even there and decided to have a little “alone time”:

How many times have you seen an artist’s presentation and they “dressed the part”?  The classical image of an artist wearing a beret and holding a long cigarette holder, all the while talking esoterically about how their art takes them into another reality, time is suspended, etc.  After years of seeing Graeme’s marvelous pieces, I had a similar mental image of the man who would show up and try to explain his art to us heathens.  Boy, was I wrong!

When I walked into the room at Woodcraft, there were people setting up chairs, adjusting cameras, putting tools and turnings on the tables and just the usual chaos of getting ready for a demonstration.  I surveyed the crowd trying to pick out Graeme and Mel so I could introduce myself and get some input on how they thought I should situate myself to take photos of their demo.  An attractive young lady with a big smile and curly hair brushed by me, and I was trying to see if my old brain remembered her as a new member.  I saw a guy in the back scurrying around laying things out on any table he could find, but thought that couldn’t be the famous Graeme Priddle, he was in a T-shirt, surfing baggies and flip-flops.  Well, just look at the next photo:

Sure enough, I had seen Graeme and Mel in all their finery!  Then, my Safety Officer’s brain woke up and I started trying to decide if I should encourage them to follow all the safety rules I teach (preach) each month, or figure out a way to say “do as I say, not as they do” without offending them.  So, I had a little chat with Graeme, and he said he would talk about safety and make everything OK.  My concerns were negated when he covered all my safety rules, explained why they turned in flip flops, then said, “You know all the rules, you have heard all the horror stories, now you take personal responsibility for your own actions.”  I could rest easy now and just focus on trying to capture the magic they were about to make.

Graeme speaks in a soft yet authoritative voice.  You know he knows what he is talking about, and that he has learned his craft/art through many, many years of experimentation and practice.  He does not hold back any details on exactly how he produces his magnificent pieces of art.  This is because he is confident that while we may now know exactly how to produce works like his, most will not have the time to develop the skill to do so.  His signature work is in no jeopardy from us mere hobby turners!

Mel takes this all in with a great sense of humor.  She knows full well that her talents match Graeme’s, and that they have a symbiotic relationship, not only in their personal lives, but in their creative ones, as well.  He turns and carves, burns and paints, she sculpts with bandsaw, power tools and burners, paints, he drives screws, she creates thread hangars.  All the time, she is smiling ear-to-ear.  I told Graeme that when she smiles, her whole face smiles (photo below).  I think she heard me.  Just look at this photo:

Now, let me show you the art they brought with them, and the piece they created for us.

First, this is the type of work I came to recognize as a core of Graeme’s work:

And this is one of Mel’s pieces (I borrowed the photo from her website):

Totally different, huh?  Now look at the next photo and see if you can see how they have melded their work into a new type of sculpture that has characteristics of each of them:

This is the piece they created for us.  You can see how each of them has influenced this piece.  Graeme started his presentation by telling us about his OCD.  However, after hearing Mel tell him a dozen times that the white shape protruding from the pod should be turn ever so slightly one way or the other, I decided OCD must be a contagious disease!

Graeme and Mel were very generous in sharing both the practical and artistic aspects of how they collaborate on a piece.  They were both good natured, humorous, relaxed and friendly.  They even held a hands-on workshop for some of our club members the next day and let them experience first-hand how to create this piece.  They even let individual members practice just certain portions of the technique so they could learn how to apply it to their own work.

So, thank you Graeme and Mel.  We thoroughly enjoyed the day with you both, and everyone went home that night just a little closer to becoming the artist they hope to someday become.  As for myself, I look forward to seeing you again when Sandy and I finally make our move to the Asheville area.

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