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Poodry Discovers a Passion for Wood Turning

By Jilliene Mitchell

There are three things in life that Dr. Clifton Poodry is passionate about: his family, his job as director of minority programs at NIGMS, and creating art from wood. Wood turning can take many years to perfect. Poodry is striving toward perfection in each piece he creates. He has been turning wood since 1995 and describes his introduction to the art as a "process of discovery at the lathe."

In a sense, Poodry stumbled on the hobby when he purchased a lathe for his wife — needless to say, she never did get a chance to use it and wood turning has been a hobby of his ever since. "I was turning a piece of scrap wood from the yard and was amazed by its beauty," he recalled. "It became a challenge to create a graceful curved form that would bring out the beauty of the wood."

Poodry took a wood turning class, where he improved his skills and learned to value the craft. He says that he appreciated the class because the instructor was a master wood turner as well as an excellent teacher. "My instructor showed me how to sharpen the tools and how to hold them for best effect," said Poodry. He says the class helped to take him to a new level of craftsmanship.

Dr. Clifton Poodry's wood crafts can be both works of art and functional objects. Some are made of wood downed at NIH.

Poodry's specialty is bowls. He creates functional bowls, such as salad bowls, as well as bowls that are decorative art. One can infer that this is definitely not a hobby for the impatient. The entire process can take several months to complete.

The first step is to select a piece of wood. Poodry looks for several different characteristics such as the age of the wood, the grain and the color. He even chooses wood with termite damage because it can be more interesting. He roughly cuts the wood with a chainsaw, shapes it with the lathe, finish shapes it, sands it finely, finishes it with a food-safe oil and waxes it with a light furniture wax. The piece is then set to dry.

Poodry finds wood locally for his creations. Often, he uses wood that he finds in his own Bethesda neighborhood. "I prefer fruitwoods such as cherry, pear, apple and crabapple, and nut woods such as walnut and pecan," he said. Maple and beech are among his favorites. Poodry even gets a good portion of his wood from contractors who cut down trees on the NIH campus.

His finished products are often sold at the Audubon Fair in early December and at the Gallery of Mountain Secrets in Monterey, Va. He donates the proceeds from bowls made from NIH wood to the Children's Inn. He gives the remaining bowls as gifts to family members. He has even entered his bowls in competitions and won awards, including the Juror's Choice Award in a competition sponsored by the Chesapeake Wood Turners Association in 1999.

Although Poodry's bowls are already winning honors, he is constantly trying to improve his art. In fact, he recently spent a week taking an advanced wood turning class where he learned carving techniques and how to add artistic shapes to turned vessels. With practice and training, Poodry continues learning how to creatively tackle new challenges. "I like to envision a form that complements the wood and then make it. Of course there is also the joy of perfecting a fine craft, something on which I have a long way to go and therefore years of enjoyment," he declared.

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