By Richard Rourk
A local artist was recently selected for a special apprenticeship program through Tennessee Craft in partnership with the Tennessee Arts Commission.
Rick Murray, the owner of Nolichucky Gorge Campground, 101 Jones Branch Road in Erwin, was one of the few selected to participate in the 2021 Master Artist/Apprentice Program (MAAP) application.
“It’s an honor to be selected,” Murray said. “I really wish this was available when I was a student at ETSU. The program will pay me to host an apprentice to teach them about working with wood but also to educate the apprentice on how to sell their artwork.”
Murray stumbled into the art world after spending 10 years owning and running a whitewater company. His first endeavor was to make dough bowls primarily using a hatchet, drawknife and spokeshave. He found the work satisfying, but the forms of those bowls tended to be repetitious. Once Murray discovered what a lathe was and what one-of-a-kind production was possible, he never looked back.
“When I left the whitewater company I was drawn to art and I soon discovered working with a lathe,” Murray said. “I was hooked.”
While in college obtaining a liberal arts degree, Murray studied the Greek classics which has tempered his sense of what forms are pleasing to his eye. Using the speed and power of the lathe allows him to work with unusual growths of trees such as wood with voids and decay to make the shape he likes.
“I really enjoy working with Grecian patterns,” Murray said. “It’s been a lot of trial and error making art out of wood. When making a bowl, your pattern is on the exterior, you have to work on the inside of the bowl to match your outer pattern. All of the artistic work is on the exterior.”
Living on a wild river adjacent to a National Forest, Murray finds myriad materials to harvest and turn.
“I’m very fortunate to live in an area with so much wood,” Murray said. “As a woodturner you need trees and that is abundant out here. I work with all types of wood.”
After 30-plus years of turning and selling his work, he is still keenly enthusiastic to make the forms which he feels define his style.
“I have a shop full of urns, vaces, bowls, wall hangings, bird house and platters,” Murray said. I love working with the burls of the wood, that’s really where the patterns are.”
If you are interested in scheduling a time to view and purchase Murray’s one-of-a-kind handmade wood items, contact Murray at 743-6868.
If you are interested in booking a camping space at Nolichucky Gorge Campground, visit them on Facebook or call 743-8876.