As a professional violin bowmaker, Trevor Ewert is used to working with exotic woods like pernambuco from Brazil and snakewood from Guyana. These days, he’s cultivating a taste for common species like the Manitoba maple.
Ewert is building a business making wooden bowls turned on a lathe. While there are tropical hardwoods that make beautiful bowls, he decided to focus on using local species, which he says can be just as eye-catching.
“When I got into the bowl making, I realized … what we have growing in a 50-mile radius of here is equally beautiful and sometimes even more exceptionally figured than the most exotic, sought-after woods of the world.”
Ewert got into making violin bows 15 years ago, with no inkling of it turning into a career. After finishing a degree in violin performance at the University of Western Ontario, he spent a year studying historical violin at the Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto. There, he learned about historical instruments and equipment and was inspired to try making his own baroque bow.
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His first attempts were clumsy, but soon he was making bows that were good enough that people wanted to buy them.
Ewert also services bows for university students and members of the local symphony. That work pays the bills, but lately demand for bow-making has been falling off – another victim of the economic downturn.
“Musicians historically have never had money, but now perhaps they have bigger worries and still no money,” Ewert said. “When there are mortgages to pay, the justification for buying a $2,000 bow becomes a bit harder.”
The bowl-turning business is still in its infancy. Ewert got into wood turning less than two years ago, after his father bought a wood lathe. He turned a few bowls for fun, but these days, the one who uses the lathe is Trevor.
The most exotic-looking bowls come from burls, growths on trees usually caused by insect or mould infestation. Inside the burl are undeveloped leaf buds and bark, and often the grain grows in irregular patterns.
“The lowly Manitoba maple – which is considered a weed in these parts, people cut them down and hate them – those trees are quite prone to having burls on them,” Ewert said.
Manitoba maple burls are also beet-red in colour; when Ewert cuts into the tree, there’s a spray of red chips flying off the chainsaw.
Burl wood is the most prized wood and it’s accordingly rare. Ewert also looks for woods with interesting grains and patterns, like ambrosia maple. He’s still developing sources for wood, leaving his card with local sawmills and asking them to keep their eyes peeled for interesting things.
Ewert also does some work on commission for people who want mementoes of special trees that have died or blown over in a storm.
“Even if its completely plain maple, it has the story behind it so the family is going to cherish that piece,” he said.
That’s the idea behind the name of his wood-turning business, Once upon a tree. Every tree has a story, he said: what it was and what it will become in the future.
Ewert will be demonstrating his craft this weekend for the Spotlight Arts Festival. His wife, Sarah Granskou, a Norwegian folksinger and storyteller, took part in the inaugural Spotlight festival last year and encouraged him to apply.
Ewert will be explaining the process of woodturning from the log to the finished bowl and finishing a rough-turned bowl on his lathe. The showcase will take place at his parents’ workshop, 3218 Weimar Line, Wellesley, on Saturday and Sunday from 1 to 3 p.m. To register, e-mail email@example.com. See also www.spotlightfestival.ca.