Bob Stocksdale’s Legacy
The late Bob Stocksdale is remembered as a master woodturner, known for his use of exotic woods as well as the simplicity and thinness of the bowl. He spent much time scouring lumber yards for rare and unusual woods, including koa, bubinga, purple heart, black walnut, cherry, harewood, mahogany and rosewood. His unadorned and delicate designs allowed for these natural creations to speak for themselves in the inherent intricacies of their color and grain.
The creation of the bowls began with huge pieces of lumber, 10 feet long, four inches thick and sixteen inches wide. He would first rough cut a circular shape with a band-saw, then turn the wood on a standard shop lathe and gauges of various sizes. For smaller, thinner pieces, he would place a piece of wood between the bowl and the lathe to protect it from being marred. In this way, he could turn wood down to a mere 1/16th of an inch thick. He said that the secret to such fine work was having razor sharp tools. The final touch of each bowl was a hand finish with pumice and oil until silky smooth.
Stocksdale is recognized internationally and his work is prized by collectors. His friend and sometimes collaborator, renowned American furniture maker Sam Maloof said, “As far as I’m concerned, Bob Stocksdale was the father of American woodturning.” Stocksdale’s humility, however, kept his fame in check. Maloof recalled “He’d kind of chuckle about it, but it never went to his head. He always said, ‘I make bowls. Period.’ But he made the best bowls.”
During his lifetime, he won many prestigious awards including the American Craft Council’s Gold Medal (1995), the American Association of Woodturners Lifetime Achievement Award (1998) and the Masters of the Medium Award, James Renwick Alliance (2003). His work has been shown in Europe and Japan, and appears in the permanent collections of the Smithsonian American Art Museum, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the Oakland Museum, Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Royal Scottish Museum in Edinburgh, Scotland.
The Beginning of a Friendship
A look through our shop archives and records makes plain the fact that many of the people whose work Helen represented became successful, well-known artists in the world of fine American craft. This is certainly true of Bob Stocksdale, with whom Helen shared a long and genuine friendship.
Helen Winnemore and Bob Stocksdale became acquainted in 1942, when Stocksdale was doing forestry work in a Michigan conscientious objector camp during World War II. While Stocksdale had previously worked with wood in myriad ways, including youth projects turning baseball bats on a lathe powered by a surplus Maytag gasoline washing machine motor. It was at this camp that Stocksdale turned his first bowl. Helen met him when she visited the camp and was immediately taken with his work. We presume that her visit was related to her affiliation with the Religious Society of Friends (known as Quakers), who believe that war and conflict are against God's wishes and so are dedicated to pacifism and non-violence. Helen was immediately taken with his work. She offered him encouragement in his craft along with the offer to sell his work in her gallery. Bob Stocksdale’s creations were offered for the first time at Helen’s original shop location on Glenn Avenue.
As appreciation for Stocksdale’s work grew, Helen Winnemore continued to support his work as an artist. The two maintained a lifelong friendship, as evidenced by years of correspondence which Helen kept safely tucked away.
Stocksdale, his wife Kei Sekimachi and his daughter Joy Stocksdale visited the shop on May 6, 1960 for a family exhibit. In the gallery below, the wooden bowls are the works of Bob Stocksdale, the fiber and paper bowls are the works of Kei Sekimachi, and the fiber hangings are Joy Stocksdale’s.
Stocksdale said that one particular piece of advice which Helen gave him early in his career became his motto for his work:
Keep up the quality. I don’t care about the cost. I want the quality.
Due to the growing demand for his work, Stocksdale ceased wholesale and consignment work in 1983, with Helen Winnemore’s being the one exception. He maintained his engagement with Helen Winnemore’s until her death in 1996 and beyond as the business transferred to the management of Jack Barrow. The legacy of fond association with Bob Stocksdale and his work extends to Helen Winnemore’s current owner. While dining at Barrow’s home, current owner Sarah Kellenberger Harpham admired a bowl turned of California Black Walnut. Later Jack Barrow made gift of a that very bowl to Sarah and her husband Reade upon the occasion of their wedding.