There is something so incredibly appealing about wood. It has warmed and sheltered humankind since the beginning of time and is probably one of the most useful of all the natural resources readily available to man.
For Mike Downey it has provided a livelihood throughout his life. From working as a logger in the forest to turning bowls in his workshop, Downey continues to connect with wood.
Downey has lived in Sooke since 1978 and has been turning wood for 40 years.
All summer he attends the country market in Sooke on Saturdays and the Metchosin farmers market on Sundays selling his delicate and graceful bowls, charcuterie boards, covered vessels and utensils.
He has perfected the way he works with arbutus and turns them into unique, quirky, sculptural bowls. Some bowls are so delicate and thin the light almost shines through them.
His process is labour intensive. He turns green arbutus blocks once on his lathe and then dries them in a cool, dark place and as they dry they change shape. He continues to turn and dry them until he considers them finished. They are not perfectly round but undulating and eccentric.
“Sometimes they are pleasing shapes, sometimes not,” Downey said. “Arbutus in particular moves the most, it has the highest shrinkage moisture co-efficient of all the woods on the island.”
He said people like the quirks and the pleasing shapes. Arbutus is close-grained and surprisingly strong.
“It is just a good bowl wood.”
Arbutus isn’t the only wood Downey uses, he also works his magic on plum, chestnut, maple, Pacific yew and Gary oak.
Downey doesn’t consider himself an artist, although some might argue that. He has an eye for balance, scale and design. His covered bowls are delicate with a slight Asian influence and his cutting and charcuterie boards show off the beautiful grain in the woods he uses.
Downey said he just likes to make things people can use. Useful and beautiful – a winning combination.