Interview with Steve Howlett, professional wood worker & sculptor
I work with wood and have done so professionally for over 30 years; first as a joiner, then furniture-maker, furniture-restorer, wood-turner and, finally, sculptor. I'm also a musician, love jazz, good music generally and walking in the mountains. I live with my wife, textile artist Rita Howlett and our two dogs, half way up a mountain in Snowdonia.
Did you undertake formal training in college or within the industry, or did you find your way into crafts via a different route?
At the age of 19, I realised I wanted to work with wood, either making furniture or clinker built boats. The only training I could find was as a trainee joiner which pushed me, unresisting, towards furniture making. I left after two years, unbelievably bored and frustrated, but able to make doors, windows and stairs. I've had no formal "arts training" and dropped art as a school subject when I was 14. My arts education has come from my wife, my friends, my eyes and my gut instinct.
How would you describe your work and your position within the Crafts world?
I try to marry the predictable, natural movement of the wood as it shrinks with slowly developing, highly refined forms and the results these days tend to be almost figurative at times, very organic and sensual.
What type of material do you prefer to use?
What would you most like to make that you haven't made so far?
Apart from money? The next piece. Which is not as facetious an answer as it may appear. I'm on the verge of moving away from using the lathe and have started carving from a stationary block. I want to develop the forms that have gone before but without the restriction of an enforced circular form in one plane.
Is it harder or easier to make a living from what you do now compared to when you began?
Definitely harder, the word impossible is probably a more accurate description. Without some extremely generous private patronage I would have succumbed to serious debt whilst being lauded for my work and been forced to find another way of life.
When I started turning wood over 20 years ago I was producing functional items of exceptional quality. I was at the lathe every day churning out lemon squeezers, kitchen equipment, fruit and salad bowls, just as wood turners are supposed to do and I was just able to earn a meagre living. As my work has developed, become more original and ground-breaking, I have started producing work that is apparently uncategorisable by the arts/crafts establishment and consequently it is easier for them to ignore it rather than embrace it.