Mike McKinney’s journey to discovering his craft

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By Andrew Dundas • Contributor | Contributor Around Mike McKinney, bowls in various stages of production dotted the workshop, stacked on tables and shelves along with various woodworking tools. At its center was a lathe, illuminated by studio lights and backed by a wall of hanging tools. Mike was behind the lathe preparing the next turn, answering questions about his craft with quiet but clear passion.

As Mike inserted the tool into the spinning tree, the shavings flew into the crook of Mike’s arm. His face rested in a calm, concentrated expression, and his expression only broke when he commented on the content or explained his actions. Just moments ago, the piece in front of him was just a piece of walnut wood, but with each turn it began to resemble a bowl more and more, becoming a rich, dark color with some of the cream flowing out. became.

Mike lives and builds things in Maggie Valley. He makes natural edge bowls, utility bowls, and a variety of other turned products. He retired as City President of United His Community Bank Waynesville branch in September 2019. He has been pursuing woodworking since his 1993, but has been practicing his craft for much longer than that.

Mike was born in 1953 into a family of three generations of woodworkers and grew up around the craft in Western North Carolina. Mike grew up in Spruce Pine, where he helped his cabinetmaker father, David McKinney, and carpenter grandfather, Paul McKinney, in their workshops. His great-grandfather, Mose McKinney, was also a woodworker.

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Mike McKinney poses with some of his first bowls in front of his workshop. Mike has had little formal training, but he learned his skills by attending demos, watching other artists and attending woodturning meetings, he said.Andrew Dundas Photos

Mike said his father was “just a mountain guy who loved watching people build things.” He recalled his father taking him to the Southern Highland Crafts Guild’s annual fair in Asheville and the gallery at Moses Cone Manor in Blowing Rock. .

However, it wasn’t until he was an adult that Mike discovered his passion for woodworking. While he was working for the First Union National Bank as a city official in Hayesville, Andrews and Murphy, his father invited him on a trip to see Lissi Orlando, a woodturner in Brasstown. Mike said Lissie makes “really rustic vessels,” and seeing her work inspired him to start her craft.

Mike asked after visiting Rissi’s house. “Dad, what do I need to get started?” $500? ” His father doubted it was that cheap. Luckily for Mike, he found someone on Iwana Paper who was selling lathes and tools for cheap — “Maybe $150,” he said — and in 1993 he started turning. It was a modest facility, so his wife Vanessa asked what it would do. This will be done using tools. Mike replied, “Maybe we should make some shavings.”

Mike tells people that the lathe is “fascinating” like staring into a campfire. “If you’re like me, just making shavings is a lot of fun,” he said. I can’t wait to make something else out of it. In fact, a few weeks later, Mike turned over his first bowl.

He began attending clubs and seminars and tried to immerse himself in the hobby in earnest. He wanted to work full time, but he had his daughter in college and another daughter right behind her, Mike said. He “turned around and continued banking,” Mike said, supporting his family and pursuing his craft.

However, when Mike moved to Waynesville to work at United Community Bank, he put his hobby aside for a while. According to Mike, it wasn’t until the particularly cold winter of 2006 that he began to turn around again. “I realized how much I missed turning around,” he said, and he has since started turning around regularly.

After retiring, Mike now pursues woodturning to his heart’s content. He described the turn as “the only hobby I’ve ever had that doesn’t pay me any time soon or any time soon, but that’s the truth.”

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Mike McKinney started making walnut bowls from scratch. Mike said that form is “the measure of good work.” What makes it special is its shape, contours and grain pattern. he said: “I try to look at the wood I’m working with… and think about what it will end up being.”

Mike is involved with the Haywood Arts Council, Carolina Mountain Woodturners, and the American Woodturners Association. He said he has benefited greatly from his previous clubs and that he has learned that there is “no exact right way to do anything”. Sometimes it’s good to see that he’s not doing it wrong. ”

According to Mike, WNC is a pretty crafty community, with “a lot of opportunities to find people to talk to and empathize with.” But over the past few months, he’s been at home more than usual due to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19). On the bright side, he said, he was able to spend a lot of time at the store. He said all that time has taken him artistically to places he wouldn’t have gone if he hadn’t spent time in the workshop.

Mike said that although sales have slowed due to the pandemic, he has been able to build up a backlog of work and hopes to sell it soon. He plans to do more online, but in the meantime, his work can be seen at Cedar Hill Studio and Gallery, Haywood County Arts Council Gallery and Gifts, and Red Wolf His Gallery in Brevard. He laughed and invited people to shop at his dining room table.



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