As a child of the 60s I am drawn to the work of the Modernists. I love minimalist design and inevitably I integrated this era’s influence with its unforgettable axioms – Form Follows Function, Less is More and Ornament is a Crime. The conditioning really shows in my early furniture pieces where function was foremost and the rest – proportion, symmetry, materials and craftsmanship – were refined and congruent.
Over time I questioned that rigidity and eased into trusting myself in the designing and making process. Now I allow the material – the trees – to influence my design decisions. At first glance, my work appears simple and minimalist. Yet, if you look closer and more deeply, you will delight in the intricate visual details that were hidden beneath the bark. With each form I make, I hope to reveal Nature’s mystery – the soul of the tree.
I transform fallen, diseased and unwanted trees into fine furniture, bowls and sculptural objects. You’ll see piles of logs, root balls and gnarled limbs surrounding my studio. As I roll them around to study them, I wait patiently for my inspiration to be provoked – as if the tree itself may speak to me! I make exploratory cuts trusting that I will stumble upon what form will best express this tree’s inner beauty.
For many years my studio was at the Log Yard for Urban Hardwoods. The milling operation regularly processed significant specimens, and each tree bore evidence of its lifespan in the urban environment with its pruning scars, inclusions, decay and oftentimes, embedded nails, bolts and wire. Some logs came from trees that were poignant in Seattle’s history such as the felled Honey Locust trees planted for the 1962 World's Fair and the Sycamore trees of historic Occidental Square removed due to disease.
As an Artist I am part of this process – the process of transforming fallen trees into their second life as furniture, bowls and other Objects of Beauty.
Everything I make is a conversation with a tree. Because every tree is unique, so is every form. My initial chainsaw cuts reveal the character of the wood, from burls to bug trails to contrasting colors between heartwood and sapwood. When the log goes on the lathe, I carve through the rings with my chisels, each ring a year gone by. Each layer is a discovery, and these discoveries inform the shape of the object. The form evolves as I work—I go where the wood leads me.
There are familiar themes in my work – these are the Archetypal Forms. Over time I began referring to them by name. First, the deep, pail-like bowl became the bucket. After an inspired visit to Hawaii, the bulbous calabash emerged. Later, with the use of fire, the ruffles and the primitives came to light. What do you call a bowl that rolls around on the table? A wobbler, of course!
What I love most about what I do is shaping the form – sculpting a log into something unique. But I often lose momentum when it comes to the final details, when it’s time to possibly add embellishment, color or finish. Sometimes I get stumped! So I leave it alone for a while – until the next move presents itself. For me, creating art involves continual research, experimentation and discovery – especially with regard to Color and Ornament.
It’s rare that I will mask the wood’s beautiful, natural color. However, if I do, my favorite methods are with patinas – organic substances that react to wood tannins, thereby changing the color. Rusty vinegar blackens oak and lime weathers pine. Citric acid lightens and oxalic acid whitens. I often use a torch as an alternate way to char and blacken the wood.
My Modernist influences practically dictate that the form be left free of adornment. I make some exceptions though, such as subtle changes to the wood’s texture with a wire brush or carving gouge and sometimes more dramatically with a chainsaw.
I approach my work through connection and intuition. My best creations come when I allow myself to work in isolation where I can tune into the natural environment and hopefully gain insight and inspiration for my pieces. In my creative process, I seek the essence of beauty, simplicity and purity, and as a result my work is mostly free of adornment. I hope that what I create is both a pleasure to look at and a delight to hold, but also an accurate translation of my connection to nature.
Education and Credentials
My formal education was in architecture and urban planning from the University of Washington. I first studied furniture design and craftsmanship at Seattle’s Pratt Fine Art Center and then traveled for intensive woodworking study at several destination arts and crafts schools including College of the Redwoods, Penland, Haystack and Arrowmont. I established my Seattle Studio in 2000 and my Orcas Island Studio in 2010.
I was a Furniture Maker working in a huge workshop chock full of specialized machines. I loved the precision and perfection I achieved then and there, but custom commissions often included unsavory aspects, like deadlines!
In 2005, I was selected for the Artist-in-Residence program at the Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts. The year-long immersion was pivotal by influencing how and what I make – as an Artist.
Now I use hand tools to cut, split and carve the wood when it inspires me. In addition to hand tools, I use a giant wood lathe to turn the monumental bowls, drum tables and orbs. Each piece I make is a magic combination of Art and Craft as well as a celebration of the tree from which it emerged.
Watch: LAURA YEATS on Verve, a showcase of local artists by Patricia O’Brien for the Seattle Channel.
My foray into the arts began while I still worked professionally as a land use planner. I took evening classes in woodworking and welding as I considered graduate school for Studio Furniture. I chose instead to travel and attend various destination art and craft schools. I took 'immersion workshops' from several well-known furniture makers, each teaching their own particular method. I also joined a cooperative wood shop where I could take on custom commissions as well as build speculative pieces for design competitions and public art installations.
Here you will see an eclectic mix of styles, with many pieces showing the influence of the masters with whom I worked or studied. Eventually my own aesthetic began to emerge – after I allowed myself to get lost in the trees!
A New Niche
Issue No. 18
Award winning entry in:
Annual Jurried Show
Honolulu Museum of Art
Created especially for a friend's father.
Nicklas Gallery, Seattle
Article By Stephen Bratkovich
Sawmill & Woodlot
I offer an exclusive design + craft learning experience at my private studio on Orcas Island, a remote and beautiful, ferry-served island located three hours northwest of Seattle. My signature workshop The Wood Bowl - From a Tree to Your Table is a comprehensive immersion – where students explore the qualities and nuances of natural materials, learn principles of form and design and develop fine craft skills. Each student makes at least one beautiful bowl from a fallen and salvaged island tree.
"I have taken Laura's class three times now, and will absolutely be returning for a fourth. Thanks to Laura's great instruction (and patience), I have improved upon my skills each time, and each time returned home with several beautiful bowls that I use daily. She is not only an excellent instructor for novice woodworkers, but also excels at teaching returning students more advanced turning techniques. Her workshop on Orcas is incredibly beautiful and peaceful, and is a great weekend escape. I can't recommend this course enough--it is a truly amazing experience." - Catharine Killien, Seattle 2013
More Student Reviews.
Learn to design and make beautiful bowls from reclaimed local hardwood trees. In this workshop you will learn the fundamentals of using a wood lathe for green bowl turning. More importantly, you will gain an understanding of wood characteristics and the principles of good form in bowl design. This workshop is for anyone interested in exploring the creation of 3-dimensional forms using a unique resource of salvaged trees.
This is a Companion Workshop designed for two adults - usually two friends or a couple. If you are alone, I can try to pair you with another interested individual or you can take a Solo Workshop for an additional cost.
More information is available at The STABLES Project.