It all began with the Hunka Hunka Churnin' Wood programmable automated xylophone. As a member of the Pacific Woodworkers Guild, Art Liestman began participating in their annual 2x4 contest. The idea of the contest is to make something using only an 8' long 2x4, glue, and finishing products, with the constraints forcing the participants to think creatively.
"I have always been passionate about music in spite of having a mother and grandmother who were piano teachers," Liestman says. "My musical interests are quite varied and I have studied and performed on several instruments over the years. So, it is natural that I came to woodturning from music. Once into the project, I realized that to complete the instrument, it would be helpful to have some turned parts. After consulting with my brother, who makes bagpipes, I obtained my first lathe and learned just enough about turning to make the parts. The Hunka Hunka Churnin' Wood programmable automated xylophone turned out to be a big hit, winning the contest that year and generating a surprising amount of media coverage.
Once the project was completed, Liestman decided to learn a bit more about woodturning. He began to concentrate on bowls and small functional items, and came to view himself primarily as a woodturner, rather than a woodworker. "Turning quickly stole my interest away from flat woodworking, with all that tedious mucking about with joinery."
He began to consider the possibility of making more artistic work after seeing an inspiring demonstration by Frank Sudol. An Educational Opportunity Grant from the AAW allowed him to study with Jacques Vesery.
"This proved a pivotal experience, beginning the search for my own voice and continuing to affect my work today," Liestman says. "It provided not just much needed technical information, but also the confidence to try the things that I had in mind. Since that time, Christian Burchard and Clay Foster have served as great teachers and mentors, repeatedly giving me insight into their views of the world."
Art Liestman's use of line and color brings modernist painters Paul Klee and Piet Mondrian to mind, so it's not surprising the works begin in drawings.
"When starting a new series, I do sketches first and try to work out as much as I can on paper and then move on to actual wood prototypes," Liestman says of his process. "I prefer working with green wood. It's more fun, less dusty, and easier to work. Unfortunately, since I have limited time to work on wood and I tend to be working to a deadline, I most often use dry wood these days. The challenge then becomes finding the material that I want to work with in a dry state. I'm committed to using local woods rather than importing wood from other places. I primarily use our local big leaf maple, which is quite beautiful and nice to work. I use small pieces of ebony for collars and other accents. On occasion I use other woods such as arbutus (called madrone in the US), cherry, and walnut."
Early turned works were in a smaller scale, while recent works command a pedestal with confidence.
"A gallery expressed interest in my coloring but wanted larger objects," Liestman recalls of this work's development. "At the time I was mostly making hollow vessels and I didn't like the idea of making large hollow forms. The first challenge, then, was to think of how to make other large objects that would be interesting. As the coloring works best with highly figured wood, obtaining large chunks of highly figured wood presents another challenge. That it must also be dry before coloring adds a complication. Third, some figures such as quilt don't go very deep into the tree, so if the object is to show that figure throughout, it must be shallow. All of that lead to several experiments, and eventually to the Terpsichorean Series and the Standing Puzzle series. The next challenge is to make even larger versions of those pieces."
It wouldn't be surprising if the artist's work grew considerably in size in the future.
"Having been lucky enough to do a fair bit of travel in my day job, I always enjoy seeking out sculpture in public spaces," Liestman says. "Some of my favorites are works by Jean Dubuffet, Alexander Calder, and the collaborations of Claes Oldenburg and Coosie van Bruggen. I remember being very excited when I first saw Frank Gehry's Dancing House in Prague. At the time, I didn't know who he was, but later became more familiar with his work. Gehry's curved forms directly influenced my Terpsichorean Series. I was recently asked to make a teapot. I've now made a few and am enjoying it, even though there is joinery involved!"

The material of wood is important to Liestman.
"Wood is warm and pleasant to touch. I like being able to hold the pieces - to feel them and to look at them up close. I like the grain of the wood and the different sorts of figure that can be present. Wood is imperfect. It's often predictable, but sometimes quirky."
Up to this point, all of Art Liestman's art in wood has been largely shaped on the lathe, with surface enhancements taking up 50 – 90% of the time spent on a work.
"The lathe is good at making things round," he says. "Making things on the lathe that aren't so obviously round is an interesting challenge. I'm increasingly interested in adding asymmetry and not-so-roundness to my pieces."

Art Liestman lives in a suburb of Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.
"From our house, we can see mountains and the Fraser River," he says. "The climate is mild but rainy, as we are in a temperate rain forest. My day job is as professor in Computing Science at Simon Fraser University, which is about 15 minutes away by car, on top of a mountain with even better views. When I leave the halls of academe, I can usually be found turning (and otherwise tormenting) wood in my home studio. I almost always listen to music while I work with the music chosen to fit the task at hand."
Like many among the new wave of wood turners, Art Liestman looks outside of the turned wood field for inspiration. He finds it in music and mathematics, both of which have long been a part of his life. He also finds new ideas and directions in more traditional art forms and in the textures and patterns of everyday objects. His knowledge of computing, mathematics, literature and music provide him with diverse and unusual inspirations for his explorations in turned wood art. While some of Liestman's works utilize pattern and repetition, others explore reality and illusion. With an interest in public art and the work of Andy Goldsworthy, it's difficult to say where his muse might take him. Yet we know that Liestman will take us along with him.
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