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Jerry Tanner "Up-cycled Boxes and Bowls" exhibit

Mike Loizzo
WBAA Radio

An art exhibit in downtown Lafayette features the work of an unlikely artist – a teacher, who is turning his hobby of more than 30 years into gallery pieces.

Jerry Tanner is the first to admit he’s not really an artist, but thinks he does have some talent, which is evident in the bowls he creates.

“I’m trying to learn the artistic side of it. Colors and blending and doing things like that, I don’t know well at all.”

The bowls Tanner works on are made of wood, usually chunks of a tree branch or even the trunk, which he turns on his lathe into all shapes and sizes. The different kinds of tree mean different colors and appearances.

“The dark lines, the black lines that you see,” he says pointing to one of bowls, “that’s called spalted. As a tree dies and decays, the minerals pull into a line and leave this, like right here, so you get these unique lines running through it.”

Tanner thinks characteristics like that give his bowls their individual style.

Cottonwood, walnut, ash, oak – name just about any tree in the area and Tanner probably has put a piece of it on his lathe and created something unique.

“Most all my work comes from recycled stuff,” he says. “I don’t go out and buy wood to do this. I hunt down or scavenge a piece of this from somewhere. The power company cuts down something and leaves it, I’ll take it and turn it.”

Tanner first began doing what he calls craft projects back in the 1970s, but says he’s become more serious about it over the past five years or so. It was in 2008 when he walked into the LaLa Gallery with a couple of his bowls to get feedback.

Credit Mike Loizzo / WBAA Radio
WBAA Radio

“I got my nerve up one day, stuck some stuff in a bag and walked in the front door here, and that’s where I got started.”

Tanner recalls gallery owner Angela Vinson being as excited to see him as he was to be there. She just opened the gallery a few weeks earlier.

“That was a really interesting moment for me to see him with his black duffle bag – I think there were only three pots in it,” she says. “It was a really interesting conversation with him. He stuck around for a little while. Honestly, I’m a clay person, so I didn’t have a clue, but I said, ‘Let’s try it out. Might as well.’”

Vinson says since that first meeting, she’s always had some of Tanner’s work at the gallery, but she pushed him to make more, so he could eventually have an exhibit. She also gives him a little advice from time to time.

“I really think his strengths are in design, when he’ll go in and carve and inlay some interesting pieces. So, I’ve kind of pushed him in that direction,” she says.

Tanner is still experimenting and learning – he’s taking an art class at Ivy Tech in 2013. He even calls it just a hobby, realizing he’s not a full-time artist.

“There are people who do make a living turning wood. They seem to take, maybe, a month to make a $6,000 piece and they have a following of collectors that want their stuff. I’m not anywhere near that yet.”

You can see Jerry Tanner’s bowls, lidded containers, boxes and sculptures at the LaLa Gallery, 609 Main Street, Lafayette through January 12th. Gallery hours are:

  • Tuesday - Friday 10 a.m. – 6 p.m.
  • Saturday 10 a.m. – 4 p.m.
  • Open late Wednesdays until 9 p.m.