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As the Bowl Turns

For Old Lyme resident Alan Todd, hand turning one of a kind wooden bowls has become more than just a hobby. Well known in his circle and beyond, Todd’s creative prowess is looked upon with awe and inspiration.

“We are so incredibly grateful each year that Alan donates a beautiful handmade bowl to our silent auction fundraiser and gala event,” said High Hopes Therapeutic Riding, Inc. Event Manager, Trudy Burgess. “His bowls have become very hot items. Every year people look forward to winning them.”

Burgess added, “I love them so much that they have become my go-to wedding presents now.”

Each one unique and special, Todd’s bowls were first formed in an apple orchard in Woodbridge, Connecticut where Todd grew up. It was there that he first started experimenting with his father’s Shopsmith lathe, using what he had plenty of; apple wood.

“I first started making candlesticks and bowls when I was about ten years-old,” recalled Todd. “My sister had her horse and I had my lathe,” he joked.

Decades of perfecting his craft, bowl by bowl, has made Todd an incredible wood artist, with a keen eye and a rare ability to take what often times is an unwanted old tree and transform its innards into magnificent pieces of treasured art.

“I’ve had people come as far away as Australia for one of my bowls,” said Todd, a civil engineer by trade, who currently has roughly 100 bowls completed and ready for purchase. He invites potential customers into his garage, where he displays his bowls in all shapes and sizes.

“They come, look them over, see what coloration, interesting markings and patterns appeal to them and choose the one that speaks to them. Very often the bowls are being purchased as wedding gifts, so I inscribe the bottom for the occasion and it makes a wonderful one of a kind, very special gift.”

More than happy to share his tricks of the trade, Todd taught each of his sons how to use his treasured lathe and even volunteered to help a Lyme-Old Lyme High School senior with her senior project, which was to make a bowl of her own and use a tool she had never used before.

However for Todd, a slight man with ocean blue eyes and a thoughtful smile, it is his intimate knowledge of every inch of his lathe that draws him in and takes him away as he gives rise to each new bowl. Intent and resolute, Todd pushes the sharp edge of his seasoned bowl gauge against the turning meat of the tree and begins to form the construct for the next bowl. Careful to pay close attention to the pressure of his tool and the grain of the wood, Todd says one of his greatest pleasures, in creating this art, is finding out what’s inside each tree and discovering each unique blemish, worm hole, fungus line, note and marking as he opens up the wood.

Starting with a large piece of the trunk of the tree, Todd cuts it in half and begins to craft. Using a myriad of various woods including; Black Locust, Poplar, Walnut, Pepperidge, Red Maple, White Ash, Elm, Horse Chestnut, Apple Wood, Butternut Wood, Hickory, Cherry, Black Birch and his favorite Sugar Maple, he uses the imperfections of each piece to produce something eye catching and original. Sometimes he leaves pieces of bark and raw edges, other times he makes use of natural holes as handles or Ambrosia beetle fungus lines as points of outstanding interest. Turning, smoothing, crafting, sanding, and finishing each bowl by hand, carefully inspecting it with his repurposed dentist light, and staying healthy with his elaborate dust collection system, when Todd steps into his converted one car garage workshop he steps into a different world.

“I like to work with Sugar Maple the most because it has a fine grain and it takes the finish well,” said Todd, who never buys his wood, instead he salvages it all. Equipped with a large tractor a grapple, a truck a trailer and healthy dose of appreciation for a hard work, Todd travels around from property to property, when he gets a call, and helps clear downed and unwanted trees, bringing them home and transforming them into art.

Commemorating his gift both literally and figuratively, a very large 19 inch Norway Maple tree bowl is prominently displayed in a case at the Lyme-Old Lyme High School. Todd, who was on the school’s building committee for six years, made the bowl, because the tree was considered by many has “sacred”, and meant a lot to the High School. However, due to the damage its root system endured during a construction project the tree could not be saved, so Todd decided to do what he is best at; giving back, and presented the school with a “sacred” keepsake of the beautiful tree.

“There is an incredible amount of equipment needed to do this,” explained Todd, “And, a huge amount of tools, each one is expensive and different, but it’s what I love to do, it brings me joy and satisfaction, and I think it’s important to have a hobby at the end of the day that takes you away from every day stresses.”

He added, “When someone comes and chooses a bowl that appeals to them, and they like the markings, the coloration, and the interesting patterns, it makes me feel good!”

For more information or to contact Alan Todd about his bowls e-mail him at papa4fox@gmail.com.

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