One of Us

Tina Minahan


Tina Minahan is a woodturner, which means she creates works of art in wood using a lathe. She was introduced to woodworking when she took a course in the early 1970s, and her first piece was a stand-alone spice cabinet. Initially, she focused on making furniture, but learning woodturning shifted her focus. Minahan’s work can be seen at the Professional Artists of St. Augustine (PAStA) Fine Art Gallery in St. Augustine. She has won numerous awards and belongs to the American Association of Wood Turners and the North East Florida Wood Turners Association.

Tell me about your art.

I use wood that is found and picked up, not cut down. I start with big chunks of wood, and I use my chainsaw to cut it up. Then I decide what I want to make.

The wood does not speak to me as many people think it speaks to them. [Laughs]

You’re not the wood whisperer.

I’m not the wood whisperer. However, you look a piece and you go, “Ooh, maybe I could do that.”

I have three lathes. I place it on a lathe, which holds the wood and spins it around. And I use chisels. This thing is spinning fast as you shape the wood.

I notice you have some interesting bowls and things like that.

I just went to a class in North Carolina at the end of June. There was a gentleman who teaches hollow form. He’s fabulous. So, I’ve been doing hollow forms lately.

How do you decide what you want to make?

I walk through the house, and I just look at things and say, “I could make that out of wood.” So, tissue holders, whatever.

How do you approach your pieces?

It is not a business for me. It is a joy. I do things that make me joyful. I’m not a production woodturner. Each one, I take the time, stop, look at it, and then turn [the lathe] on again. I watch the wood change.

Nothing is done quickly because it’s something that I just love doing.

Are there certain woods you prefer?

Yes, there are. I love cherry. I love black walnut. And I love the local woods. There’s a lot of camphor wood that falls down here. Have you ever smelled camphor wood? Campho-Phenique? Remember that? That’s exactly what it smells like.

When I’m turning that, I have my garage doors open, because, really, it’s so overwhelming. [Laughs]

So, I like that. I like the oaks, but I can barely do oak anymore because here in Florida it’s water oak. Think of it as water, how heavy water is. I do smaller things, but it’s a lot of heavy, heavy stuff.

I love to turn wet wood. It turns easier. It’s just wonderful to turn. And it doesn’t stay the shape that you turned it, because of all the tensions in the wood. It opens up, or if there’s a knot in it, it could be wavy.

Just about any wood is fun to turn, except for stuff that’s really, really hard.

I noticed that you sometimes have different woods in a single piece. Like, you had one inlaid with sea turtles made from a darker wood.

That was a piece of — I think it’s maple — that I made the round piece out of. Then, I used a darker wood. I carved [the turtles] and then put them in the wood. You’re trying to differentiate, having those pop out at you.

But there are other woods. There’s boxelder. That is a maple. When there is distress in the tree, it turns bright red there. It’s a yellowish wood, but you will see reds going through it.

Then, I have spalted wood. Spalted wood is when the tree falls to the ground, and all of these fungi get in it and eat it. If you find it early enough as a woodturner, when you turn it, it dries, it stays. You still see all of the colorations and the striations. And there are black lines; these fungi mark a territory that’s theirs and that they’re going to eat.

So, you see lots of different patterns and variations. I love that.

How did you learn to do this?

I have always loved wood. I’ve always been fascinated. I think it’s beautiful.

There was a school, Cerritos College in California. I used to go there and take classes. I was doing flatwork, like tables. Then, I moved into Windsor chairs. I never wanted to turn, but I had to be able to do chair legs. So, I took a turning class. I loved it.

How long have you lived here?

I’ve been living here ever since 2011. I was raised in West Palm and Miami in the 1950s and ‘60s. Then, my husband and I moved to California. And then, I worked my way back here.

What do you like best about living in Northeast Florida?

I think it’s Heaven on Earth. That’s all I can tell you. And I think it’s Heaven on Earth to have the beautiful beach.

How do you like to spend your free time?

I have friends and we exercise together, and we go out and have lunch and all that stuff. I also like to garden. I have raised flower beds on my driveway. So, I love growing flowers there. I always say, “God, please. Let me make it through another spring because I want to see all the beautiful flowers again.”