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Meet Jon Mavko

Today we’d like to introduce you to Jon Mavko.

Every artist has a unique story. Can you briefly walk us through yours?
I have to give most credit to my family. There is a history of craftsmanship on both sides. My mother’s side with exquisite quilting, and on my dad’s side with carpentry and machining. Pretty sure my dad put a hammer in my hand the first opportunity he had. My grandfather on my dad’s side had the biggest impact on me. He was a machinist until he retired, but was generally skilled with building. I loved going into his workshop as a kid, looking at all his big machines.

When my grandfather passed away, he left his entire workshop to my two older brothers and me. I got all these tools and felt an obligation to use them. So I started tinkering, at first carving wooden spoons, making cutting boards, simple things like that. When I wanted to make a wooden bowl, that’s when I figured out what you could do with a lathe. Within a few days I purchased an old 1950s Shop Smith on Craigslist, and through trial and error figured out how to use the thing. The first time I loaded a piece of wood on it and flipped the switch, it wobbled off, flew across the room, and put a fist-sized hole in the wall. Luckily, I had the wherewithal to stand out the way when I turned it on!

The act of carving wood on the lathe was captivating. When you get the perfect cuts, the tool carving away like butter, it’s meditative. I was hooked.

Please tell us about your art.
I am a woodturner – someone who creates objects on a lathe. A lathe is a machine that spins wood at a high speed and allows the artist to make round objects. Think table legs or stair banisters. I turn both functional (bowls, plates, jars) and non-functional/sculptural pieces out of locally scavenged wood. One might call the wood I love to work with imperfect. I love cracks, knots, burls, and irregular shapes.

I love the free-form aspect of carving wood on the lathe. There is an important element of trust between your hand and eye; there’s a shape in your head and your hand must execute it. Each piece is an exercise in that trust, and one that I am constantly seeking to strengthen. Obviously, on a lathe you are relegated to working with curves, and finding the perfect curve can sometimes be elusive. My mentor described curves as ‘moves,’ and whether people know it or not, your eye can tell when there is more than one move in a curve. Some of the objects I am most proud of are ones when I’ve felt like I have achieved single-move curves, be it the exterior shape of a bowl, or the gentle slope of a shallow plate.

When this is achieved, to me, it almost seems like the object is still moving on the lathe. There is so much energy and movement that goes into making an object, so it is my goal to make things that evoke that movement off of the lathe. This can be enhanced by objects that don’t have a stable ‘foot’ to rest on, so they may lean off center, and actually spin like a top if you give them a nudge. I have been experimenting with this a lot lately. For example, continuing the curve of a bowl all the way to the very bottom so that it doesn’t have a steady surface to rest on, it will find its natural center point.

Given everything that is going on in the world today, do you think the role of artists has changed? How do local, national or international events and issues affect your art?
Everything that is going on in the world today? If that’s referring to how it seems to be tearing itself apart, one doesn’t have to think very hard to realize that this isn’t the first time the world has felt this way. Maybe not in my lifetime, but certainly in generations before me.  So no, I don’t feel like my role as an artist has changed. For centuries, artists have provided critique to socio-political systems, told stories, and have been mediums for general emotional response. This continues to be the case.

With my own art, I really focus on the latter. If someone is moved by one of my pieces, I can’t think of anything better. I have provided joy to someone. Emotional response to art is something that truly makes us human, and it’s a way of connecting people and communities.

When outside events affect me, it’s usually a feeling of helplessness. Creating is empowering in those moments because it gives me an opportunity to bring something beautiful into the world.

How or where can people see your work? How can people support your work?
I run a website with an online shop – jonmavko.com. Apart from the pieces I list there, I’m always into commissions. Drop me a line and let’s chat! Also, let me know if you’re taking a big tree down in the Tucson area!

Contact Info:

  • Website: jonmavko.com
  • Email: hello@jonmavko.com
  • Instagram: @jonmavko

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