Paul Stafford seems to have some of his best ideas at 2 a.m. It was at that early hour that the idea for turning wood into what he calls "Zippered Vessels" came to him. A retired aerospace engineer who turned to woodturning as a second career, Stafford prefers to avoid the term "career" when referring to his woodworking, although the intricate shapes, carved layers and inlays combined with unique finishes make his work stand out among woodworkers.
The zippers are among the first things to catch a viewer's eye. By combining the organic form of wood with the industrial nature of a regular jacket or pants zipper, Stafford creates woodturnings that look like they have been opened, or unzipped, by the artist to reveal the grains that naturally occur in the wood.
The idea comes from Stafford's fascination with discovering what is inside the piece of wood he is working with. Inherent in every woodturning is the fact that the wood needs to be carved and opened up to shape it into the form that the artist intends to work it into. To Stafford, using zippers in the finished piece connects the piece to its inception, giving the viewer the sense that the wood was unzipped as it was brought back to life by Stafford's precise workmanship.
Whether intentional or not, his combination of organic and man-made materials evokes man's effect on the natural world.
Nearly 30 years ago, the artist found inspiration in the large pieces of Ed Moulthrop in an art gallery in San Francisco. "I found them so attractive that I promised myself then and there that I was going to learn how to do that," he said.
More than a decade has gone by since Stafford began working as a woodturner. He now finds inspiration in all of the works in wood that he comes across and he is never afraid to push boundaries as he strives to invent new designs.
Stafford recently partnered with fellow woodworker and Art on a Whim artist Cynthia Duff to develop a line of work in which Stafford turns the wood and Duff finishes the pieces with acrylic wood stains. The pair has already won a Best of Show award for their work at the All Colorado Show in Littleton.
Stafford's work is always on display in Breckenridge at the Art on a Whim gallery on Main Street. This weekend he will exhibit a collection of his newest works while demonstrating his techniques.
"One of the great things I noticed with other woodturners is their willingness to share their knowledge," Stafford said. He returns the favor this weekend.