Shaen celebrates the raw beauty of wood

The Marina is home to a rich seam of artistic talent that deserves wider exposure – and we are happy to oblige. We recently caught up with Eastlake Island resident Shaen Adey, who has spent the last five years honing her skills as a woodturner with some very impressive results.

Born and raised on a farm in KwaZulu-Natal, Shaen – who moved to the Marina 12 years ago – started her working life in conservation and wildlife photography, which she successfully combined with writing for many years. But ever since childhood, her first passion has been wood. “My father had all the tools, which I used to teach myself how to carve wood. It’s an interest that has never left me.” Around five years ago, Shaen took the plunge and decided to devote more time to her childhood passion.

Her journey as a professional woodturner started when she attended the re-opening of the Blue Shed arts and crafts market at the V&A Waterfront. Here, she met Bert Parker, widely respected as one of South Africa’s leading woodturners. Now 90, Bert advised Shaen to join the Western Cape Woodturners Association (WCWA), which is based in, appropriately enough, Pinelands. With the help of the club’s highly supportive woodturning community, she quickly mastered the basics.

These days, Shaen divides her working hours between her home in Eastlake Island and her studio, which stands on the banks of the vlei with spectacular views north towards Table Mountain. “This is my happy place,” she comments, surrounded by the tools of her trade and the finished and half-finished wood pieces she refers to as her ‘friends’.

The beauty of Shaen’s work speaks for itself. Her pieces range from pens and pepper grinders to large bowls and non-functional pieces that are simply a no-apology celebration of wood’s raw beauty. Functional or not, each piece invites us to rediscover the fascinating aesthetics and physical versatility of an indispensable material that so many of us take for granted. So where does she find her inspiration? “In the wood,” she says. “Each unturned piece tells me what it will become.”

Inevitably, the pandemic has made it more difficult for Shaen to share her work with a wider audience. But in the October before last, she hunkered down in her studio for the entire month and emerged with a collection of work entitled 30 Things In 30 Days. Alerted by word of mouth, the visitors who were fortunate enough to see the collection were overwhelmingly impressed. “The response,” says Shaen’ “was fantastic!” With that success under her belt, Shaen is working towards her follow-up exhibition  as she continues to attract a growing customer base.

It includes fellow Eastlake island resident, Eve Watson, who commissioned Shaen to make two pepper grinders. Commenting on her pieces, Eve says: “Loving wood and knowing that Shaen had a studio, I decided to commission her to make some pepper grinders. One was crafted from an interesting piece of Norfolk pine, with the typical signature knots dotting the surface. It made the perfect engagement gift for my daughter. And my piece? Exquisite! Shaen made it even more personal and fascinating by involving me in the entire process – from choosing the raw chunk of cork oak to watching it being transformed into a beautiful, functional artwork. Seeing the various aspects of the complex production and listening to Shaen’s creative thought process was totally enthralling.”

Watch this space for more details of Shaen’s next exhibition. But for now, if you’d like to see more of her work and perhaps work with her at her studio to create your own commissioned piece, she’s happy for you contact her on shaenadey@gmail.com or 082 777 5088.

Instagram: touchwoodshaen

WCWA woodturning club in Pinelands contact: Chris Briers on chris.briers@uct.ac.za.

Quick Q&A with Shaen Adey

Favourite wood to turn? I don’t have one, I have several, especially if they’re burls. But I mainly work in wild olive, protea, and cork oak.

Favourite tool? My large gouge. It’s got weight behind it and just feels right in the hand.

First turned piece? Two pens. One went to a friend’s mother in Scotland and the other was my aunt’s 70th birthday present.

Favourite piece? Aah… A really large sphere turned from a bottlebrush root.  

Biggest inspiration and influence? Pinterest and YouTube. There’s just so much out there.

Woodturners you follow? Paul Kristafor, Pascal Oudet, Rodney Band and Mike Shuler.

Advice to beginners? Join our club. It’s well equipped and has a number of  brilliant woodturners who are more than happy to pass on their skills.

Most valuable lesson? Safety, safety, safety! Gloves, dust mask and eye protection. I almost lost a finger once.

Ultimate woodturning ambition? To have a piece selected for The Daniel Collection.