Craft Arts International, issue # 82 features an article on me, written by Kevin Wallace, entitled " Pattern, Processes, Precision - Work in Wood by Harvey Fein.

What follows is the article. I have added some photos to help put them all into context.

  Harvey Fein is an artist in love with the mechanics of things, with the line between inventor and artist blurred by his process. He holds four patents and has designed numerous machines and projects. Ideas come to him as fully completed objects and are reverse engineered to become manifest. His father was in the business of making window curtains, and the sound of the factory - sewing machines, steam irons and table saws – plays in the background of his subconscious as he creates machinery and art.

  The contemporary craft movement that emerged in the second half of the 20th century was inspired largely by the Arts & Crafts Movement, which had created a romantic and idealistic view of the craftsperson, in opposition to the “soulless” machine-made production of the Industrial Revolution. The movement was influenced by the social criticism of John Ruskin, who believed the machine was at the root of many social ills.

The lathe - a machine closely tied to industry - showed little promise as a means of self-expression in this revolution.

  In March of 1901, a year after the death of John Ruskin, Frank Lloyd Wright presented a lecture to the Chicago Arts and Crafts Society. Titled, The Art and Craft of the Machine, Wright’s address asked his fellow artists to consider the good that technology could bring to their creative endeavors. Wright disagreed with the idea that the machine was foreign to the creative process, arguing that technology would prove vital to progress in the arts by opening new avenues of self-expression.

  Frank Lloyd Wright defined Art as “structural tradition, whose craft is fashioned upon the handicraft ideal, ancient or modern”, with directed labor to create a beautiful effect central to his philosophy. Wright believed that, through the machine, “man’s life upon the earth can be made beautiful, may immeasurably widen; its function ultimately to emancipate human expression.”

A century after Wright shared these thoughts, Harvey Fein began creating works in wood, with a love and fascination for all manner of machines central to their inspiration and creation.

  “I would define a machine as a collection of parts acting on an object to produce a desired result,” Fein says. “I admire and draw inspiration from machines; the people that design them, the people that build them and the people that run them. Three things that I love to do.”

  “A computer is a machine, a business is a machine, an automobile assembly plant is a machine and my shop is a machine,” Fein continues. “For me, a well functioning machine is like a ballet, a symphony and a sculpture all rolled up into one. The lathe, the tools, the dust collection system, and when the stars are aligned, me,  are all parts of the machine, all acting in concert on a piece of wood to produce the desired result. I am always looking to instill my pieces with the same sense of mystery, excitement and discovery that I feel when I learn about a new machine.”

“I most often see the finished work in my head before I start, and that’s what I get,” he says. “Sometimes what shows up after I start cutting tells me that I must rethink my original idea. New ideas lead to new modifications of equipment and these differences in turn lead to even more varied ideas. The whole of my work has been an evolution from the very first piece.”

That first work began with an idea and the challenges it presented. Since then, each of Fein’s works has been a stepping off place for the next – new forms, new combinations of material, new patterns and the challenges they have entailed.

“With each variation I am trying to push at the boundaries of mystery, excitement, sense of discovery, and attraction,” Fein says. “The mystery concerns how the works are created. The excitement lies in the interplay of wood, pattern and form. The sense of discovery is in the details. Attraction is the combination of the three and hopefully a little magic - all of it held together for the viewer, I hope, by the passion and love I feel for every step of the process.”

  As Fein’s work has evolved, he has worked to make the machinery that he utilizes act increasingly “more like a paint brush and less like a machine.”

  “All pieces start with determining the shape and then ‘opening up’ the wood, creating my canvas,” Harvey Fein says. “The texture, pattern and inclusions all are considered before I start cutting.”

As the woods employed by Fein must be bone-dry and tight-grained, he tends to work with kiln-dried tropical hardwoods: “I choose a wood with surface features that I think will complement the design and then rough out the shape I need — usually a large, shallow platter about one-inch thick. Sometimes I draw parts of the design on the surface of the wood to determine placement, especially if there are prominent surface features that present design or structural challenges.

As the initial process reveals the particular features of the wood I’ve chosen, I frequently modify my design or even change it altogether.”


  Wood is the ideal material for Fein. As he explains, “Its warmth, the feel, the smell, the dust, the chips, the oil, the wax, sanding, shaping — everything about wood appeals to me.”

  “A highly figured piece of wood needs to be treated differently from a piece with subdued grain,” Fein says. “In general, the latter can support a more detailed form and more surface detail than the former. But how much more and of what kind?  I treat every piece of wood that I use is an individual case. Heartwood and burls can be counted on to have interesting pattern and coloration, while at the same time they have more inconsistencies and, for better or worse, surprises. Part of the fun and challenge is to find what's inside and then overlay the design to complement and enhance what goes on in the wood, and to incorporate the surprises into the design.”

  “I need to know how things work,” Fein says of his inspiration. “While in college, I earned spending money as a mechanist and used to imagine that when I retired I'd work in a machine shop again for fun.

But a much better future announced itself to me when, in 1997, a friend gave me a wooden bowl he had made, and then showed me how he had made it. Holding the gouge in my hand for the first time, I knew that this was for me. I bought my first lathe that very afternoon.”


  Fein went into the cellar with his new set of tools and books on turning, but soon realized that a little personal coaching was in order. Classes with David Ellsworth and other well known woodturners gave him a deeper understanding of the potential of the lathe. One of these artists, Hans Weissflog, impressed Fein with the precision of his work, and this influence is obvious in Fein’s pieces. It was Canadian woodturner Leon Lecoursiere who provided the inspiration for Fein’s technical approach. “He showed me a picture of his lathe, which has a built-in drill press, cross feed, and much more,” Fein recalls. “The idea of using other tools to do part of the work was revolutionary to me at the time. I found that as I moved away from imitating the many generous teachers and critics I had encountered, I saw that the machinist I have always been was now making things in wood and that, to my great satisfaction, the pursuit of form and aesthetic value had been added to my lifelong fascination with making things.”

  As he moved away from imitating the artists and teachers he encountered in person, on the page, and on video, Fein saw that his creativity and skills as a machinist and a maker were showing up in his work. Early in his career as an artist, he used a router to cut straight grooves in the side of a bowl and created inlays to place in the grooves. While the technique was simple, it was the ideas that it sparked that excited him. He envisioned a whole realm of possibilities that would open up if he could just get more control of the movement of the router over the surface of the wood. Since that time, he has developed a system that includes a collection of forty pieces in steel and plastic, as well as threaded rods, gears, and coupling, of various shapes and sizes.

  “I assemble the parts required to move the router as needed for each form,” he says. “Often I have to redesign the jig on the fly and the setup and testing can take as much as two hours. Then I start cutting the design, first from the front and then from the back. The mechanical process, which is so familiar to me, has been incomparably enriched and deepened by the addition of the aesthetic concerns involved in making a successful piece in wood.”

Discussing his development as an artist, Fein says, “When I started out, I spent my time perfecting my craft. I then concentrated on form.

In hindsight, as I developed my own style, I sort of gave up the craft portion of what I was doing to concentrate on the forms in my head, which is always bursting with ideas.

I asked the wood to do things that it sometimes refused to do and I had to beat it into shape. Now that I’ve developed my own approach, I’ve been getting back to the craft - that is, technical as well as design excellence.”

  Fein draws his inspiration from the patterns he finds all around him. He finds great beauty in the natural world ¾  a thin coating of ice on a lake will crunch up against a bulkhead, a bloom of forsythia flowers in Central Park, the details on a leaf in a lily pond, the designs found in the bark of lignum vitae, a ravine carved by streams, or moss on shale. In the man-made world he looks at everything from architecture to the patterns created by items on market shelves.

  “My work often starts with an idea I’ve been tossing around in my head for weeks,” he says. “Usually I explore it on paper before choosing a piece of wood. I work out the geometry, then determine how to set up my jig to accomplish the design. Since I rarely make exactly the same piece more than once, it is a challenge that I really enjoy. If the cuts required by the new design are significantly different from those I’ve done before, I frequently devise new linkages between the spindle and the jig, for instance when I went from radial to lateral cuts, or more recently when I incorporated lines which move in relation to a vanishing point.”


  “The first time I held a gouge to wood, I felt immediately as if I’d come home to some place I’d never been before,” Fein says of the woodturning process. “It was one of the most natural, effortless things I’d ever done. I have always seen myself as a maker and after years of working with my brain and a pencil, I felt that I was back on track. Woodturning puts me in touch with something essential in my nature that provides a deep satisfaction in my life.”

Harvey Fein continues to expand his vocabulary. In recent works, copper foil and wire are used to further explore pattern and texture. His recent 5 x 18 collaborative project, involves sharing five-sided bowls with eighteen artists. “What I love about collaboration with Harvey is the kindred-ness of spirit, coupled with the diversity of translation,” Ron Layport notes of Rhythms, the first of the 5 x 18 works to be completed. “We observe the universe from entirely opposite directions and speaking from these two vantage points to create a single cohesive object becomes a true collaboration.”

  “I was quite flattered when Harvey contacted me with the collaboration opportunity,” Molly Winton says of their 5 x 18 collaboration. “In addition to the excitement of being involved in this project, it challenged me to rethink my design process. In order to make the piece work, I had to consider my surface design, while blending and respecting Harvey's vessel. That was both challenging and exhilarating.”

Other artists taking part in the project include John Jordan, Binh Pho, J. Paul Fennell, Mike Lee, Dixie Biggs, Jacques Vesery, Andi Wolfe, Graeme Priddle.

“Harvey Fein brings a new dimension to the world of wood art by combining  the adventuresome nature of an inventor with the grace and style of an artist,” says Ray Leier, co-founder and director of del Mano Gallery, which has been exhibiting the artist’s work for over a decade. “His pieces are both beautiful and thought provoking… always begging the question, How did he do that?”

  The work of Harvey Fein is part of a continuum, reaching back through modern art and architecture, to the philosophies of the ancients. When the Museum of Modern Art launched its 1934 Machine Art exhibit, a quote by Plato was called into use: “By beauty of shapes I do not mean, as most people would suppose, the beauty of living figures or of pictures, but, to make my point clear, I mean straight lines and circles, and shapes, plane or solid, made from them by lathe, ruler and square. These are not, like other things, beautiful relatively, but always and absolutely.”

  The iconic philosopher’s words, like Frank Lloyd Wright’s vision of the machine’s potential, make clear the precedence and potential of Harvey Fein’s explorations.



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