Mike Stafford


Getting asked to critique work such as the pedestal style piece submitted by Keith Burns makes my feeling of inadequacy for the task palpable.  I have known Keith for a number of years and have watched his development into an artist of the first order although he modestly states that he does not consider himself to be an artist.  Well, Mr. Burns, you are in the minority of opinion on this subject as I believe most of your peers consider you to be an artist.

Let me start my critique by identifying those items which I think are exceptionally well done. First of all I think the shape of the black ash burl hollow form is a near perfect hot air balloon shape which is much harder to get right without any flat spots or lack of curve continuity, i.e. a fair curve; than most people think until they try to do it.  I love the way that the hot air balloon shape is repeated on the pedestal and finial.  Not only are they repeated but they are sized proportionally for the two turnings.  That kind of attention to detail and execution is what separates the artist from the wood bludgeoner.  I know a wood bludgeoner when I see one in the mirror.

The delicate pedestal and finial are signature works for Mr. Burns.  Anyone who spends any time on the woodturning forums recognizes a Burns finial which he has successfully used for hollow forms, boxes and other turnings for several years.  I love the effect that is achieved by the return at the bottom of the pedestal where it joins the foot.  This little return adds so much to the appearance of the pedestal.  There is another return at the base of the hollow form where the pedestal joins it.  This return accomplishes the same thing as the return at the bottom and adds visual interest by highlighting the hollow form at its base.  Just beautiful little touches.

I also like the way the base of the finial rises from the top of the black ash form rather than sitting upon it.  Having it inset flush into the top of hollow form in a rabbet allows it to rise up to its finished height without a bump/lump as many finials do which are applied to the top of the finished piece almost as an afterthought rather than being incorporated into the design as Keith has done with this piece.

My first thought was that the finial was a bit too tall but after measuring the images of the pedestal and the finial it turns out that Keith made the finial almost exactly 2/3 the height of the pedestal.  This ratio accounts for the overall pleasing visual proportions.

I have a lot of respect for the work Keith did in two difficult materials.  This holey black ash burl must have given him some pause as it was turned but the result is just beautiful.  And until you have tried to turn delicate finials and pedestals in brittle African blackwood you cannot have an appreciation for the skill required.  The finish on all of the components appears to be flawless. Beautiful work! I would love to see this artistic treasure in person.

Now for my complaint...Keith, you did not describe the little leaf shape under the base of the finial.  Is it a little carved scrap of the black ash burl or something else entirely?  Regardless of what it is; it is a wonderful surprise for whoever removes the finial lid and finds that delicate little treasure hiding underneath.

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