Elegant Forms
April 3, 2009
Entry Details

# 848
Mark Nadeau
Portsmouth, RI
Dimensions (inches):  
  Width:   6.75
  Height:   12
  Depth:   6.75
Materials:   Pollyanna Burl, Palo Santo, Quilted Ash, Stainless Steel.

In my opinion, for any three-dimensional object to be elegant, it must have simple fluid lines.  It can not be overly ornate or complex.  Material choice, size, and proportions also contribute to the elegance of a piece.  If the piece is utilitarian, then the form must follow the function.  A large percentage of lathe-turned objects are functional to some degree, and it is my feeling that a turned-for-use product can suffer if the function is secondary to the form.  Since I usually make useful items, elegance needs to be all encompassing.  The whole package is important, not just the outward appearance.  I would like to think that I have achieved an elegant form with this urn.

I have a particular shape that I use for most of my turned boxes.  On occasion, people have asked me if the boxes can be used to hold ashes.  This compelled me to turn some cremation urns.  Although my box design is very nice, it is not a form which provides a lot of interior volume, and thus requires extra large pieces of wood to yield full-sized urns.  In response to that, and to this competition, I made an urn which maximized the volume of the wood with which I started.

The urn is turned from Pollyanna Burl (Irvingia malayana) and features a threaded finial/handle made from Palo Santo (Bulnesia sarmientoi) and Quilted Ash (Fraxinus americana).  The bottom of the urn is recessed to accept a supplied 304 stainless steel disk (2.75” diameter) on which memorial information can be engraved.  The urn has a volume of 159 cubic inches and measures 6.75” in diameter X 12” high.  It is made in two pieces.  The joint is located between the ogee shaped top and the cove detail at the top of the main body.  Constructing the urn in two pieces makes hollowing easier, thus allowing more precision on the interior cuts.  The interior of this urn is as nice as the exterior.  The exterior is sanded to 1200 grit, received 3 coats of Waterlox® (rubbed with fine bronze wool in between coats), and was then waxed and power buffed.  The interior is sanded to 800 grit, received 2 coats of Waterlox® (rubbed with fine bronze wool in between coats), and was then waxed and buffed by hand.  The finish on all surfaces has a soft silky feel.  Some people would scoff at my treatment of the interior, but because of the intended use of this piece, a respectful treatment of the interior was important to me.  The two piece design is also more practical in terms of making this form in the future as a production piece from wet log to finished product.

Uniqueness of form can contribute to elegance.  I wanted to top off the urn with something that deviated from the ubiquitous round/turned finial.  Handles are common as well, but I felt that I could come up with a unique design.  I turned a small bowl shape at the top of the threaded piece of Palo Santo.  Palo Santo was chosen for its ability to hold fine detail.  It threads beautifully, and the particular piece that I chose has red browns and olive colors which are also present in the Pollyanna Burl.  The bowl was tapered to be thin at the edges and become gradually thicker at the base.  A sacrificial square block of 4/4 pine was then placed in a chuck, and a recess was parted into its center to make a jamb chuck for the bowl.  Once the bowl was fitted in the jamb chuck, the assembly was taken off the lathe and brought to the table saw, where a kerf cut was made through the center of the bowl by riding one edge of the jamb chuck against the fence, then turning it 180 degrees and passing it over the blade again.  The kerf was then refined using files to make it match the arc of the Quilted Ash handle which was shaped mostly by hand.  The two sides of the bowl on either side of the handle were then cut off, filed, and sanded.  The handle was of course glued into place.  The support that the Palo Santo provides for the handle has a nice subtle boat-like shape to it due to its original bowl shape and the way it was cut.

This image gives a closer view of the turned details on the urn, as well as the threaded Palo Santo insert.  The walls of this urn were turned to 3/8” thick and taper to approximately 1/2” at the bottom.  The ogee shaped top was turned to approximately 1/4” thick.  I feel that a substantial thickness is necessary for the walls of an urn.  If the urn were to get knocked over or accidentally dropped, the extra thickness would be necessary to withstand the impact and keep the contents interned.

The threaded finial/handle is shown here in detail.  Its construction, as described earlier, can be seen more clearly.  I feel that a threaded insert is necessary for an urn versus one that is friction fit or glued.  Humidity changes can loosen a friction fit.  If an urn needs repair, a threaded insert would allow the ashes to be easily decanted into another container until the urn is fixed.  A glued insert causes additional problems if an urn gets damaged and needs repair.

A cremation urn is not necessarily an object which most people would classify as elegant.  However, I feel that there is no reason why urns should not be elegant.  I much prefer the idea of interning the ashes of a loved one in a unique work of wood art rather than a generic metal or ceramic vessel with a pre-defined shape that an industry has defined to society as an “urn.”

Judges Comments
CD : Nice combination of shapes. Finial's shape compliments the vessel well. I would like to see the vessel's curve continue to wrap around at the base rather than straightening out before it hits the ground. The lines are not necessary, and are a bit distracting.
DE : The lines of this form carry it beyond the complexity of the materials used. The top detail is perfect and I can live with the position of the four lines circumventing the form although they are not needed. But the base could have been a bit smaller in diameter in order to dramatize the volume of the lower quadrant without making it look 'pointy'; very nicely done.
TB : Congratulations on entering this competition. Just the process of creating a piece for a themed exhibition helps you push your creativity and your work to the next level. The shape of this piece is what I am attracted to the most. It is very simple yet elegant. I also like how the lid handle works with the shape of the piece.

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