In Conversation with Giancarlo

Giancarlo Ciuffardi’s Sylvana Collection is part of our current Makers Art series, on sale through February 2021.

He places the large wooden vase on the window sill and takes a few steps back to contemplate the fruits of his labour. His piercing eye observes the quality of the work.

The vase is finished and stands proudly.

Giancarlo Ciuffardi is a talented Woodturner and furniture Maker based in London, Hatch End. He has practiced his craft for the last twenty years and kindly displays and sells some of his work at the Heath Robinson museum.

Free at last | The shell opens

Giancarlo’s talent has long been contained – a pearl formed in the secret of his shell. In his shell is the story of a man who quietly but relentlessly worked for his family life before he found a path of artistic expression.

Giancarlo has worked very hard indeed. He had to part with his native Liguria in order to find a better future. Working seven days a week in London, there was no time for such a thing as a hobby – apart from his beloved garden. The shell was still closed.

After retiring, Giancarlo took the opportunity to discover new walks of life. Wood brought back childhood memories when watching his uncle Amedeo making furniture. The shell opened and a pearl comes to the surface.

He buys the tools (bench grinder, lathe, planer, thicknesser, band saw) and starts feeling his way forward. With dedication, he gives tremendous effort to learn how to tame wood. The same character of perseverance shown in his professional career finds itself – yet is accompanied by a new deep passion for woodturning.

Patience & Perseverance | The birth of a wooden vase  

As the carving of a pattern takes many weeks of work, woodturning requires inner qualities of patience and perseverance. First, he chooses a design and makes a template. Then the object is traced in conformity with the design. The most perilous stage is the final one: cutting out the pattern. Giancarlo tells me he carves in solitude to keep himself completely focused. One wrong movement and, he says, the work can be deemed a failure.

Wooden objects have a history, a process they go through. First you test the moisture of the wood, which should be less than 10%. In the case of a wooden vase, you separately work on each part: the body, the top and the base. Each part is then polished and glued to the others. Then the handles are designed and attached.

When Giancarlo steps back to observe the finished work, he and he only knows what it went through. The end result conceals the very feelings and thoughts he had while silently, almost sacredly, carving.

The fascinating texture of the wood | An incomparable colour palette

Giancarlo discovers the shy beauty of the wood, its natural motifs and lines.

Experience taught Giancarlo the variety of wood types, its nuances and the way to work with them. Cherry, walnut, oak, olive, yew, laburnum, etc. All these names, and many more, have a specific meaning for a woodturner. Giancarlo explains that each wood has its grain, is hard or soft, straight or wavy. In his practice, using wavy wood grain is preferred than straight grain[i]. A horizontally cut in the piece of wood will keep the grain visible and give place to the beautiful effect you can observe on Giancarlo’s work (see the Spalted beech bowl and the Apple bowl[ii]).

Born in the nature, between soil and sky, wood is a living material, marked by the passing of the time. And Giancarlo is a respectful woodturner, only using a Tree Surgeons’ spare cuts in his workshop.

Roots of the Antique | Emulating ancient models

If you see his work, you may well notice a theme. Giancarlo is greatly inspired by antiques and he includes the similar equilibrium, purity and patterns in his creations (see the tall yew lidded vase and the yew fruit bowl)[iii].

His travels have nourished his taste for classic painting and furniture too. From Milano, Florence, Perugia, Roma to recently Venice he admired the masterpieces of Italian painters, such as Tintoretto or Caravaggio.

England also kept beauty for him, such as his visits to the Houses of Parliament where he admired precious woodworks carved into the outstanding chambers.

The community of the wood | A fruitful cooperation

Throughout his learning process, Giancarlo was sustained by the common passion he shared with other woodturners. The Middlesex Woodturners Association Club in North Harrow helped him overcome technical issues. It also brought communication with the public through their display of works and craft fairs[iv].

Judith Spunache

[i] The grain refers to the texture and appearance of wood fibres.

[ii] Giancarlo’s Facebook page displays pictures of woodturning and furniture (Giancarlo Ciuffardi Woodturner and furniture Maker)

[iii] Idem.

[iv] Great Missenden in Buckinghamshire, Redding or the Uxbridge library.

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