“Call me when you’re 15 minutes away and I’ll come meet you at the start of my road,” Les offered by phone as we barreled up Arkansas’ famous Pig Trail highway towards Huntsville, Arkansas. Two weeks earlier we had heard of a famous woodworker named Les Brandt who lived in the hills outside of Eureka Springs. We decided his work was interesting and arranged to meet him at his home one Thursday morning. As we sailed through Huntsville we phoned Les to let him know we were nearing. “Good, I’ll be right there.” A few minutes later, we were at the start of his road. Which is just the slightest bit misleading. His “road” is a dirt trail that snakes through some of Arkansas’ most pristine wilderness, down a mountain, past a lake and cattle ranch, over a beaver filled creek, up the side of a different mountain and ends at one of the most beautiful Santa Fe style homes I’ve ever set foot in, nestled beside a horse ranch, overlooking 15,000 acres of mountainous wildlife management land. In short, Les Brandt lives in pure natural splendor. He’s lived a lot of places actually. Originally from south of St. Louis, Les joined the Air Force in the late 60s and “went from the farm to much of Europe”. When he returned to the States he became a photographer where he met his wife Mary Anne. They traveled the United States together for the next fifteen years painting photograph studio backgrounds – giant canvases of landscapes and abstract images that hung in portrait studios around the world. He’s still got a keen eye for natural texture, which plays heavily into his work. Later, when they wanted to settle down, they recalled a small artsy town in Northwest Arkansas called Eureka Springs and decided to lay down some roots. “Quite a driveway, huh?” Les laughs as we get out of the car to shake his hand. He’s slender and tall with a white beard and bushy long hair swept back into a ponytail. “We found this place a few years ago and just love it.” It’s easy to see why. Just opposite the main house is Les’ studio – a single room building surrounded by logs piled on top of logs. It’s heaven for a wood turner. “My wood comes from the local area. Trees die in people’s yard, the electric company cuts down a tree, development, whatever – people call me and I go out and get the biggest chunks of wood possible and bring them back here.” Interestingly Les prefers to turn the wood when it’s still relatively green. He seals the wood as soon as it’s cut. By turning the wood when it’s green, he’s allowing nature to play a more integral role. Once the turning is complete, he lets the piece rest and dry – for sometimes up to a year. During this period of time the bowl warps slightly, according to the natural tendency of the wood as it dries. Only much later after the original turning is it finished, oiled and offered for sale. It’s a technique that he’s sometimes criticized for (his work showcases a natural process, and isn’t always completely symmetrical). Nevertheless, when you hold a finished piece and run your fingers over the “imperfections” you begin to understand Les’ goal of allowing nature to shine through without manipulating the wood too much. All images © Bernard Baskin & Yvonne Quek, Maayde.com
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