By Gina Malone
Holland Van Gores calls himself a builder when he has a measuring tape or hammer in his hand and a wood artist when he finds himself in a gallery setting. “Three years ago, I built a studio,” he says, “or if we are talking construction, a good old wood shop.” He grew up in Southern California with a father who built things when he was off duty from police work and a mother who was an artist and teacher. Van Gores was given free rein in his father’s wood shop. “The exposure to the arts through my mother and the skills and guidance of my father shaped me into what I am today as a maker,” he says.
After high school, where he sampled wood, metal and auto shop, and two years of college without an idea of what he wanted to do with his life, his father asked him to help build a new family home in Laguna Beach. “I decided to take a break from school,” he says, “and spent the next year building and learning about construction—a move that would end up showing me my path.”
Construction work eventually took him to the jungles of Costa Rica and to the St. Thomas Virgin Islands where he lived for the next 34 years. There he met Michelle, “Mickie,” who was from Michigan. Together the two operated a construction company, building mostly custom homes, and, when ready for a break, sailed a 36’ sailboat through the Caribbean to South America, “stopping at dozens of islands along the way, living a simple life on the sea.” When they returned home to St. Thomas, they married and, a few years later, welcomed twin girls, Audri and Julie.
When their daughters were ready to start high school in 2012, the Van Gores gave up their tropical island existence and moved to Brevard for the good schools, friendly people and emphasis on the arts. “Since moving to this area,” Van Gores says, “I have been able to evolve and grow as an artist.” Regional grants have allowed him to attend Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts, honing his own skills, and to work toward teaching woodworking to others.
He has been creating turned wood pieces for 15 years, working almost exclusively with local woods like poplar and maple from trees that are fallen or have been discarded. For the first 13 of those years, he says, his work was mostly indistinguishable from that of other woodturners. In the last two years, however, he began experimenting with a method called “lost wood,” in which his freshly turned forms are cut lengthwise so that a slice of wood can be removed before the halves are joined together again. “I realized this method of making a hollow form made people look twice,” he says. After joining the pieces, he uses different carving tools to shape and give texture to the wood’s surface. “I developed my texturing and painting in order to disguise any seams showing in the wood.” He uses milk paint, acrylic paint and GILDERS® wax to color his pieces. “The soft use of color in the style of Claude Monet influences some of my milk painted pieces,” Van Gores says.
“There are times when I start a piece and have an idea of what it will look like, though just as many times, I’ll see something in the wood that changes my mind and sends me in a different direction. Occasionally, I’ll work without a plan at all, not even using a pencil to draw a design, more spontaneous. I am constantly experimenting with forms, textures and colors. This can lead to mistakes and do-overs, but even some of those missteps can lead to new and exciting ideas.”
Woodturning and wood sculpting have become a creative extension of the woodworking skills he has developed throughout his lifetime. “I don’t begrudgingly say ‘I have to go to work today,’” he says. “It’s more like, ‘I get to work in the shop today.’ I am so content to be in my workspace with the tools humming and music playing that I easily get lost in the process, much like reading a good book where time passes without notice.”
Holland Van Gores’ work may be found at Number 7 Gallery in Brevard, The Gallery at Flat Rock and Mango Tango in St. Thomas Virgin Islands. He is also a new member of Southern Highlands Craft Guild and will have his work shown at the Upstairs Art Space in Tryon on Saturday, June 23. To learn more, visit hollandwoodart.com.