Ed Auston and his wife, Kim, sit in their backyard at a patio table arrayed with a display of colourful wooden items spun on his lathe.
There are finely crafted bowls of various sizes; some functional, and some simply unique works of art. There is also an assortment of goblets, some with long, delicate stems that might have been lifted from the set of Game of Thrones.
Ed is a woodturner, or a “turner,” as those in the craft refer to themselves.
You can take a piece of wood, and in a couple of hours, you can make something that looks so different from when you first picked it up.
The Austons and their two daughters arrived in Airdrie from the Yukon in 1994.
“We figured it was time for a change,” Ed says.
Kim is originally from Calgary, but Ed, a member of the indigenous Tlingit people, was born in the Yukon. His business name is Tthay Natal, which is also his indigenous name, and means Eagle Soaring. Ed’s ties to the North run deep; there’s even a mountain named after his father, who was a wilderness outfitter.
A Level B welder, Ed has worked for various companies, but hadn’t experimented with wood until 2001, when his wife gave him a small lathe for Christmas.
“He’s always hard to buy for,” Kim explains, “but he just took off from there, and started making magic with it.”
Ed signed up for a workshop at the Black Forest Wood Company in Calgary, and it was there that he learned to use turning tools.
The first thing he made was a “rickety bowl” from African Padauk, an exotic, orange-tinged wood.
“Once I started doing this, I began to look at firewood differently,” says Ed, laughing.
He then began making bowls and goblets out of maple, cherry and other woods, “spinning them out” as fast as he could, filling the Auston house “with thousands of pieces,” and giving them to his children and friends. He doesn’t use stain, but finishes each one with beeswax to enhance the natural hue of the wood.
A year ago, Ed’s daughters suggested he sell his work at local craft markets.
“It started out as a hobby, you know, just getting ready for retirement,” he jokes.
They’ve had success with Market Collective in Calgary, Kim says, who acts as Ed’s business manager, but they hope to feature more in Airdrie this Christmas.
“Last year was our first market,” she says. “We sold a lot, especially practical things like rolling pins.”
Ed is also a member of the Calgary Woodturners Guild. The group meets in the Black Forest shop and he says it’s been helpful to share ideas and designs with other turners.
“Woodturning is a lot of copying from turners that have already done their stuff,” he says, adding that there’s only so much you can do on a lathe that looks different from someone else’s work.
Ed has tried his hand at design, making a small bowl from the dark, swirling grain of Mexican cocobolo wood. He remembers that as he shaped the inside of the bowl, a distinctive design appeared in the wood.
“It’s one of my favourites,” Ed says. “When I look at a piece of wood, I don’t always know what I’m going to get. Something like that just came out of it.”
Besides buying a larger lathe, the artist has also been experimenting with making spoons and tables. Still, turning is what he enjoys the most.
“There’s really no limit to what you can make.”
For more about Ed Auston’s work, visit Tthay Natal on Facebook.