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Meet Andrew Kuby of Chicago Woodturners

Today we’d like to introduce you to Andrew Kuby.

So, before we jump into specific questions about the business, why don’t you give us some details about you and your story.
The Chicago Woodturners was founded March 28, 1988. Before that, there was no organization available to give Chicago area woodturners a chance to talk and discuss concepts. Two avid woodturners from the Chicago area, Tom Jesionowski and Dick Sing, attended a Utah symposium which introduced them to the possibility. Subsequently, Dick attended the first American Association of Woodturners (AAW) symposium in Lexington, Kentucky, which fueled interest in forming a local chapter. Tom began contacting local woodturners by phone, no internet or email in 1988. A number of people showed interest, so there were meetings at Tom’s home to formalize the chapter organization.

The original name of the chapter was Northern Illinois Woodturners. In 1991, the members decided to change the name to Chicago Woodturners to more accurately reflect the area that the club services.

The original chapter was six members, but in the first year, the group grew to about 13. The club has continued to grow to its current size of approximately 175. Three members from the 1980’s are still involved with the organization. Originally there were no dues, just a group of woodturning enthusiasts getting together to share their passion. A few years later, dues were established at $25 per year, and 29 years later the dues have not changed significantly.

The original meetings were held in member’s shops, very informal but a lot of fun and very educational. The host for the month was responsible to put on a demonstration and provide a cooler with drinks, desserts, or other snacks. It was a great opportunity to see other turner’s shops, equipment, tools, and projects. A positive of hosting a meeting was that you had to clean your shop, finding all the tools you thought you had lost.

After more members joined, the meetings were moved first to a conference room, followed by an area high school, and then to the basement of a local Woodcraft store where the club met for about 15 years. We now meet on the second Tuesday of the month at the Christian Liberty Academy, 502 Euclid Avenue, Arlington Heights, IL.

Over the years, the body of work changed significantly. It started with bowls with small feet and an occasional platter. Pieces with cracks, bark inclusions, wormy wood or mixed media were verboten. After a few years, natural edge bowls and hollow forms began to appear. Coloring and texturing came much later as the woodturning community advanced. Today we often see pieces which include multiple materials and techniques.

In 1995, the chapter began seeking out world-renowned turners to visit and demo in Chicago. Initially, it was up to three per year. Today it has increased to four to five per year. In 2008, we held our first biannual regional woodturning symposium, Turn-On!Chicago and in 2009, we became a 501(c)3 organization.

In 2018, we will host our fifth symposium, considered by attendees and professional turners to be one of the best in the country. We provide three days of world-class demonstrations, a trade show and charity auction in an intimate setting with meals and housing included. The proceeds from the symposiums support our community outreach and continuing education programs. Throughout the year we sponsor turning events, demonstrations and hands-on opportunities at high schools and other venues to introduce and teach our art and craft.

Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
Accommodating the needs and desires of over 175 individuals is never easy. The art and craft of woodturning have been practiced around the world since well before the Egyptians but it was not until the 1980’s that turning started to be recognized as an artistic endeavor and appear in galleries and craft shows. When our club started in 1988, the focus was on plain wood turnings: bowls, platters etc. Gradually hollow forms, natural edges and embellishments worked their way into the repertoire. The discussion of art versus craft is never-ending.

Our club includes professional turners, established artists, talented amateurs, beginning turners and a number of members who just enjoy the excitement of the group. Interests range from traditional turning for furniture and décor to multi-media pieces, jewelry, pens, production turning of balustrades and columns, boxes, off-axis turning, platters and treenware to fine-art pieces which may include very little turning. Turnings might be embellished with paints, dyes, textures, pyrography, piercing, carving or simply finished with oils and wax. Some work in segmented wood, producing turnings which may include hundreds of small pieces of wood. Others work with the largest wood they can find making platters and bowls as large two of three feet in diameter from a single piece. Equipment includes mini-, ornamental-, and production-lathes, CNC machines, lasers, carving and wood-burning tools, sand-blasters, vacuum pumps and whatever else is required to achieve the end result.

When the scope of work and interests is this wide, there are always conflicts. Art versus Craft, natural versus embellished, useful versus artistic, etc. However, our struggles have been mostly related to the mundane, finding a place to meet, getting volunteers, finding the money to support our endeavors. One of our biggest challenges was the creation of the first Turn-on! Chicago symposium but through the dedicated effort of a core group of volunteers we will present our fifth symposium in ten years in 2018.

Alright – so let’s talk business. Tell us about Chicago Woodturners – what should we know?
The Chicago Woodturners is a non-profit, volunteer, organization dedicated to the art and craft of woodturning. We provide a forum to promote woodturning through education, information and community programs. One of our most successful signature programs is a biannual symposium. This three-day event features 50 demonstrator rotations plus hands-on pen turning, a tradeshow, all meals, housing and a banquet/auction. For additional information see In the odd years, we host an Ornamental Turning Seminar with guest instructors which often include the most accomplished ornamental turners in the country.

Our community outreach includes Focus on Arts, with Highland Park High School, and various other high school and middle school related events. We also participate in Boy Scout Jamborees and local art fairs. Our members also teach classes at the Arlington Heights Senior Center, Chicago School of Woodworking, Rockler and Woodcraft.

Any shoutouts? Who else deserves credit in this story – who has played a meaningful role?
The Chicago Woodturners is an all-volunteer organization. Each of our members is an important contributor to our success. Teaching and sharing of information is an important part of our mission and our more experienced members serve as mentors to the woodturning community and our club.

We are an affiliate of the American Association of Woodturners, (AAW) a national non-profit organization dedicated to advancing the art and craft of woodturning worldwide by providing opportunities for education, information, and organization to those interested in turning wood. Established in 1986, AAW currently has more than 15,000 members and a network of over 350 local chapters globally representing professionals, amateurs, gallery owners, collectors, and wood/tool suppliers. The AAW is very important to our success.

The Collectors of Wood Art and the Sculpture Objects Functional Art show at Navy Pier have sponsored the Chicago Woodturners and in return, we provide support and equipment at the SOFA show for the professional woodturning demonstrations.

Our corporate sponsors include Owl Hardwood, Rockler Hardware and Woodcraft.

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