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  • Writer's pictureShea Stanfield

Designing from the Trees

It's said that "An artist who works with his hands, his head, and his heart at the same time creates a masterpiece." In the world of woodturning, the combination is evident in the work of the artist Cal Vander Kooi. Born and raised on a dairy farm in Worthington, Minnesota, Vander Kooi has worked with his hands using problem-solving talents that come to him second nature. Following his instincts, he made his career as a collision repair technician for 46 years. The combination of hands-on work, a keen eye for detail, and a commitment to precision work made him a highly sought-after craftsman.

In 1985 the Vander Kooi family decided to leave the frozen landscapes of Minnesota winters for the sun, warmth, and natural terrain of the Arizona desert. Here the family continued to grow and thrive, reaching their numbers today. Vander Kooi states, "I am at the top of an enormous family tree, with three children, eight grandchildren, and six great-grandchildren!" When asked about his journey into woodworking Vander Kooi recounts, "It was Christmas of 2009 when I received my first equipment to begin turning wood." He had been inspired by his brother-in-law, Mark Wachal, who had taken a woodturning class in Colorado. Vander Kooi's wife recounts, "He was a natural from the beginning." In fact, she was gifted one of his first bowls for Valentine's Day only a few weeks after he began his new endeavor. Vander Kooi remarks, "We no longer have a pile of firewood. Instead, I see each piece of raw material as a piece of art waiting to be created." The ultimate in repurposing, recycling, and the creative edge.

"An artist who works with his hands, his head, and his heart at the same time creates a masterpiece."

Vander Kooi's creative instinct allows the wood to call for what it dreams of becoming. As he relates the story, "I view each piece as an individual. Sometimes, pieces of wood will sit in my workshop for days or weeks before I hear what should be made from it." For this reason, each finished piece is one of a kind. Even his sets of wine goblets are not an exact match; each is an individual in the collective group.

Membership in the American Association of Woodturners and the Arizona Woodturners Association has inspired Vander Kooi in design. It has also provided a profound understanding of technique and a family of committed artisans that continue to thrive and grow in their craft.

Cal works from his home studio/workshop. His home gallery is open by appointment. Cal Vander Kooi's public presence is with On the Edge Gallery in Scottsdale, Arizona, and the Fountain Hills Artists Gallery in Fountain Hills, Arizona.


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