Local artisan, Eugene Hertzler, reveals the art of nature through the turning of wood.
Story by Julia Owens
Photography by Ken Johnson
Eugene Hertzler has been a wood turner for the last 12 years. It’s been his therapy. His wife, Claire, named his subsequent business, “The Wood Genie” because she says he “was like a genie, rubbing the bowl, making magic happen.” But for Hertzler, the real magic is seeing a customer luxuriate in the feel of the wood, which he has meticulously turned, shaped, and finished.
Before retiring, Hertzler was a psychotherapist. He would help his clients in allowing their pain to enhance their lives – helping seek beauty in imperfections. Much like the wood he turns, irregularities make for great possibilities. Sometimes, those irregularities become the accent of the piece.
“The joy is the uncovering,” says Hertzler. He looks beyond the surface of the wood and sees it as being shaped, the grain accentuated, and he instinctively knows there is something waiting to be uncovered.
Hertzler uses a lathe to create a small vase that stands on a tiny stem, perfectly balanced. From there, the wood grain reveals part of its history – a limb that was broken, burrows where beetles may have taken up residence, and evidence that worms may have traveled through parts of the wood. Knowing that he has exposed the tree’s inner beauty through the turning of the wood gives Hertzler great pleasure.
When hunting for wood, Hertzler looks for trees recently cut by a tree service, which are green, and has pieces cut for himself. For a large piece, he will rough turn the wood, taking off a considerable amount. If he has an idea of what the piece will be, he will turn it in that general shape.
“Sometimes I uncover more than I realize when I first see the wood. Those are the ‘A ha moments,’” Hertzler says.
Within four to eight months after proper drying, the wood is ready to be turned into the finished piece.
His workshop is a large, converted basement, which has become an incredible repository of wood. Maple, oak, box elder, Northfolk Island Pine, and walnut wood blocks are a small sampling of the inventory. Unfinished pieces are drying in paper bags to better control the drying environment. Once the wood reaches the optimum moisture content, it is then ready to be turned into a work of art. Shelves and shelves of beautifully-finished pieces are waiting to be sold or taken to a gallery.
Hertzler said the pandemic has been to blame for his larger than usual quantity of inventory. The fall artisan shows were canceled. The two galleries that display his work, The Artisans Village Art Gallery in Eatonton, and Wild Oats and Billy Goats in Decatur, were closed for months. Both are now back open for business, and Hertzler says he is looking forward to a better year.
To take a raw piece of wood and turn it into a beautiful piece requires attention to details, experience in using the equipment, proper preparation of the wood and, once on the lathe, knowing when the wood has reached its full potential. It brings a great sense of accomplishment and gratification to Hertzler.
“The wonder of seeing my ideas for the wood turn into something awe-inspiring makes me ask myself, ‘How did I do this?’” he says. “I am not creating the wood. I am uncovering what’s there.”
- Julia Owens is a freelance writer in Eatonton, Ga. To reach Eugene Hertzler, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call (404) 357-2580.