Imagine the tools you typically find in an art class. Pens, pencils, brushes... small, safe items. For John Bozza’s “Power of Tools” class, the first items students need are eye protection and a face mask. They learn to use electric saws and drills, and to find art in the things that they can’t control.
On the back patio of the Art Base sit crates of power sanders, grinders, drills and safety goggles. In between sawhorses are five, three-foot tall pine logs.
This is not a typical set up for an art class. After the students start drilling and sawing, it quickly becomes clear why this class takes place outside.
John Bozza, or “Boz” to his students, is a woodcarver, and the instructor this evening, but he says he doesn't consider himself an artist.
In the early 80s, Bozza was an advertising broker in Manhattan. He moved to the Roaring Fork Valley for a change of pace. One day, a friend who worked on a ranch in Woody Creek needed a hand replacing fence posts.
"He and I went up there and chainsawed a bunch up, and I kept some and that spring I started carving them," Bozza said.
Since then, Bozza has created pencils, paintbrushes and totems out of old logs. Even though he doesn’t consider himself an artist, he’s developed the eye of a sculptor.
He can look at a piece of wood, and then drill and sand and chisel away to bring something new to life.
"The wood sort of directs you in a way," Bozza said. "You know, with wormholes and rot and knots and things like that, so a knot can become an eye. It all depends on the chunk of wood you’re working with."
For this class, Bozza is working with four students. Their experience with power tools ranges from minimal to non-existent. And his biggest lesson for them is not to worry. If they make a mistake, it means the carving can take on a new character or shape.
"Usually if you have a plan, it’s not going to work out," he laughed.
Because the students are all relatively inexperienced with power tools, he encouraged them to pick an easy shape to start with, like a thumb. But Chelsea Richards, a local art teacher, had a different idea. Bozza said he told her to start out with something simple. She said no way.
Richards lives in Hunter Creek, and owls have recently taken up residence by her apartment. When she saw the logs that were available for the class to carve, just like Bozza said, one spoke to her. There was a knot in the wood that looked like the pattern of a wing.
Richards said she likes how imperfections can become beautiful in carving.
"You kind of have to understand what you want to make, and also look at the log and see maybe it’s mis-features, if you will, or see it’s uniqueness, as an opportunity to make it into an art piece," Richards said.
The owl Richards created is finely detailed, with sharp eyes and feathers. It’s hard to believe it’s her first time carving with power tools. She said she’s come a long way in the two-day course.
"Honestly, they handed me the power tool and it was the first time I turned it on and it was hard to get it to stay on," Richards said.
Guinevere Jones is another art teacher in the class. She’d used tools to install art for exhibitions, but that’s about it.
But she said, "Now...hand tools? I could do that! I could totally do that."
Jones is bent over her log, sanding away a chunk of wood from the side. Next, she switches to chipping away at the log with a screwdriver. Small pieces of pine fly through the air. She’s intent...but her vision has had to change.
"I tried to make my dog but it turned out like a cat, so now I’m just going with a cat," she said.
Bozza walked among the students, stepping carefully over power cords, offering tools and tricks. Carving with power tools may seem dangerous, but he wants his students to feel safe to experiment and play.
"When I hear someone say I can’t draw a straight line, well, either can I," he said. "You know, it’s more fun to bend it a little bit and have some fun with it."
With that, he turned back to his students, smiling as sawdust filled the air.