By Kathy Chouteau
Growing up in Illinois, artist Dave Earls used to help his dad make kitchen cabinets in his wood shop. The experience ignited within the younger Earls a lifelong interest in woodworking that has spanned 50 years and which, today, sees him upcycling wood from felled trees—be it from a neighbor’s yard or beyond.
Earls eventually left Illinois, attending graduate school at Princeton University in New Jersey and also living in New York, where he bought his own table saw and primarily used it for utilitarian purposes. He moved to the Bay Area in 1979 for a job at the Chevron Richmond Technology Center; now retired from his role as a senior technical advisor, Earls currently makes his home in Pinole.
When his father passed away, Earls inherited his lathe and used it for side woodworking projects, such as building cabinets for his home, like the good ‘ol days with his father. When the old lathe quit working, Earls bought a new one—and a practical side interest blossomed into a full-blown hobby making upcycled wood artwork via his home workshop.
“The last 12-13 years is when I’ve been doing most of my woodturning work,” said Earls, who was “triggered by the availability of wood from a tree in my backyard.” Earls had to cut down a significant chunk of the Siberian Elm, and since he “hates to throw wood away,” he started creating art with that wood.
“Most of my woodturning is sourced from trees which sacrifice themselves for art by being cut down, trimmed or blown over in the local area,” he added. When asked if tree debris from the recent storms was fruitful for his craft, Earls said that “most of limbs that came down after the storm were too small,” but that he saved some to see if they can be useful for smaller creations like his birdhouse ornaments.
Word has spread about Earls’ interest in felled wood, so he often gets tree tips from local residents and has even sourced wood from the Richmond Country Club. “The most recent stuff I got was from a house across the street where they cut down a Juniper and a Holly; currently that is in the process of being turned into saleable stuff,” he said.
After collecting his wood from local sources, Earls puts it through a drying process that “takes anywhere from three to eight months,” according to the artist, who said that allowing it to dry slowly prevents cracking.
Once the wood is ready to go, Earls turns some of his creations on his lathe, while others are individually constructed. His diverse range of wood works include yarn bowls, salad bowls, darning eggs, drop spindles, shawl pins, small turned boxes, jewelry boxes, birdhouse ornaments, gnomes and more. Earls also accepts commissions, such as the cutting board he recently made by request.
“The yarn bowls that I sent to Avenue Yarns work very well; they seem to be fairly popular,” Earls said about one of his bestselling works. “I like making things that people use,” he added, joking that, in the case of the yarn shop, he’s “supporting their addiction.”
Earls sells his work at the aforementioned Avenue Yarns shop at 1325 Solano Ave. in Albany and also at the Pinole Artisans’ Pinole Art Center Gallery, located at the Pinole Vista Crossing Shopping Center, 1360 Fitzgerald Dr. in Pinole—where he is a featured artist. The woodworker can also occasionally be found at craft fairs where he sells his work under the business name Boxes and Bowls.
The Pinole Art Center Gallery is having a Holiday Show Nov. 30 through Dec. 31 on Tuesdays through Sundays from 12-4 p.m. that will feature Earls’ works, as well as the creations of other artists. As of Dec. 17, the gallery will likely extend its hours to include the evening; call (510) 724-2008 for further details.
To contact Earls for commissions, email him at [email protected].