Wood turning has a large number of well-known artists throughout the world. Some are legendary, and we've lost all too many of these amazing artists in the past few years. Ray Key was such a figure - legendary for his skills, sense of design, and wonderful humor. He left this world September 14, 2018.
In late December, Paul Hannaby, Chairman of the Association of Woodturners of Great Britain (AWGB), contacted more than 100 woodturners for a project to honor the memory of Ray Key. Ray's wife, Liz, found a stockpile of partially-turned pieces that were in Ray's shop. These were to be sent to well-known woodturners from around the globe, to finish in their own style. The pieces will be exhibited as a collection and then sold, with proceeds going to Ray's wife and a charity designated by AWGB. All of the participants have had interactions with Ray over the years, and contributing to this effort is a way to honor his memory.
I selected a small rough-turned bowl of Canarywood for my project. The rough turning had the classic bowl shape that Ray was known for. I finished turned it, and then carved a texture pattern that was inspired from wood anatomy - a rough interpretation of how tracheids (water conducting vessels) interact along the stem of a plant. The combination of grain lines in the wood with my carved pattern makes an interesting design.
Ray was a character larger-than-life. He had the classic dry humor of many Brits. I first met him in 2005, when he was a demonstrator at the Utah Woodturning Symposium. I sat through one of his demonstrations on making his signature Pagoda Box stack. I watched him go through the bottom of one of the boxes, and he talked his way through it as if that was his intention all along. It was hilarious, and an excellent lesson for me, as someone who had just recently joined the realm of demonstrators invited to teach at major woodturning events.
The Utah Woodturning Symposium always had a relaxed and intimate vibe, where demonstrators, well-known artists, and hobbyists had many chances to mingle. Demonstrators and artists often got together at pre- and post-event parties, which is where I had a chance to really talk to Ray for the first time. I found him a delightful story teller, and a master turner who was very supportive of the community of demonstrators.
I saw Ray several times over the years at different events, but the one that really sticks out in my mind is the Turning 2013 - Ohio Valley Woodturners Symposium. Ray was there as a featured demonstrator, along with Michael Hosaluk, Glenn Lucas, and Nick Agar. Again, I enjoyed watching Ray do his demonstrations, and his interactions with the audience. The most delightful moment, though, was after the Saturday night auction. Many of the auction spotters wear wigs in order to keep the audience's attention during bidding. After the auction, Ray, Mike, Glenn and Nick borrowed the wigs to just be silly, and they allowed me to make some portraits of them. I think this picture (last photo in the sequence below) captures the essence of Ray Key - serious, but funny, as a demonstrator, and a man who just enjoyed life, friendship, and the comraderie of the woodturning community.