David Pye

A couple of weeks ago I was scanning wooden bowls for sale on ebay as I do occasionally when I spotted one made by David Pye. I was delighted to buy it.

David Pye who died in 1993 has been an inspiration to me for years, he was a turner, carver and for many years, he was a professor of furniture design at the Royal College of Art in London. My favourite book of his “The Nature and Art of Workmanship” is a complex and important book though very readable one review said this

“This book reads like a long essay on why it is vitally important to care about one’s own craftmanship. The author weaves a thread of reality in the interdependence of design, drawings of an ideal form, and the execution of a design’s intention. “There is far more in the appearance of the object than in its engraved design, and all of that has been added by workmanship, not by design.”

anyway I found the book inspirational and so it is a great joy to me to own a piece of his work which exemplifies his love and understanding of good workmanship and particularly what he called “free workmanship”

“In free workmanship, the flat surface is not quite flat, but shows a faint pattern of tool marks. The effect of such approximations is to contribute very much to the aesthetic quality in workmanship which I shall call diversity.”

Pye was a fan of pole lathe turned bowls and carved spoons, in fact the only craftsman he mentions by name in the book is John Davies the Welsh turner and spoon carver. He developed a machine he called a fluting engine which worked a little like the pole lathe taking a series of clean cuts with a chisel but rather than concentric they run from rim to centre to create a pleasing texture.

Personlly I like my workmanship to be a little more free than this, I love medieval work where the toolmarks are gloriously wide wobbly and freely cut yet stil as sharp and crisp as any more finely controlled work. I suspect had I met him I would have found him very interesting but perhaps a little up tight?

2 Responses to David Pye

  1. Jim April 9, 2011 at 8:20 am #

    Interesting comment on D Pye bowl. The 'fluting', though apparently regular, never is, however. If you look minutely you will see irregularities. These add subtle idiosyncrasy. The fluting itself achieves a doubling of surface, which can be extraordinary. I never saw this when he was alive, and have only seen it through endless gazing at two of the big walnut dishes of his I possess. The flutes are one surface, and the 'figure' in the wood is a deeper under-surface. The 'tight' (though slightly irregular, as I say) flutes are then like a tightly held form in good poetry – within which extraordinary thoughts and images can have a greater effectiveness. I guess this effect is most remarkable with walnut, his favourite wood for the bowls/dishes. In one of mine the effect is rather like seeing the ripple (regularly irregular) on the surface of a highland stream – and the pattern of stone and rock beneath.

  2. Graeme September 21, 2013 at 12:47 pm #

    Fascinating, any more observations on how the fluting machine worked?
    I like the freedom expressed by the tool lines exiting the bowl surface and now that I think of it displayed on it’s side it would be a stylised ‘infinity’ symbol