It's a story that goes back thousands of years. A young man learns his trade apprenticing to a master.
Dan Tilden remembers the day he met master woodworker and internationally renowned artist Christian Burchard.
"Ten years ago, he was a guest in Mr. Weston's wood-shop class," recalls Tilden, a 2005 graduate of Ashland High School.
Burchard had received a grant to purchase a lathe and other equipment for the school. He volunteered several hours a week to teach students his craft as a wood-turner.
"He's taught me everything I know on the lathe," says Tilden, now 24. "It has really helped to have such a great teacher."
After the school year ended, Tilden began doing odd jobs at Burchard's studio and has worked there a few hours a week ever since. Today, he does much of the demanding manual labor that is getting more tiring for the older craftsman.
"I don't know what I'd do without him," says Burchard. "He started with sanding and cleaning the shop. Now he does difficult work; he does some of the turning for me."
This progression is one Burchard knows well. A native of Hamburg, Germany, Burchard completed a traditional German apprenticeship in the mid-1970s in a furniture business.
"That's how you learn a trade in Germany, in Europe, whether you're a plumber or an electrician," Burchard explains. "You're an apprentice — the bottom of the totem pole. You work in a business and go to school one day a week or in blocks. It's a trade school, and it's traditional to start when you're 15 or 16."
Tilden decided early on that he, too, wanted to be a woodworker, working primarily with a lathe. Four years ago, he managed to purchase his own lathe and set up a studio in his parents' garage in the hills above Ashland.
Though he hopes one day to be fully self-sufficient with his own creations and to teach his craft to the next generation, Tilden has found full-time work in a different side of the woodworking business. Like Burchard before him, Tilden is employed full time as a furniture maker. He builds cabinets in Talent for Green Mountain Woodworks.
In his short time as an artisan, Tilden has developed a signature style that has attracted buyers at Ashland's Blue Heron Gallery, Portland's Real Mother Goose Gallery and at three to four shows a year up and down the West Coast. Tilden's preferred raw material is a burl.
"Burl wood has more character than regular-grain wood," says Tilden. "I like to turn madrone. It warps when it dries. It's a wet wood with a higher water content than maple or oak."
The unique bowls and vases that Tilden creates have narrow openings and require a lot of skill and patience. As each shaving is scraped from the wall of the bowl, there's no turning back.
"I like to do hollow vessels compared to bowls with big openings," says Tilden. "I like the challenge."
To demonstrate, Tilden dons a pair of goggles and switches on his lathe. As the rough madrone vase begins to turn, he inserts the hooked end of a metal rod into the vase through an opening the size of a half dollar. He can't see the tool inside the vase as the sharp edge scrapes the wood.
"I do it by feel, by sound," Tilden explains.
Having mastered the technical aspects of his craft, Tilden thinks more and more about the art.
"I love to incorporate the natural features of the tree into my pieces," says Tilden. "Also, weight is important: When you pick up a piece, you can feel when it's light. You know it's hollow."
He picks up a narrow vase the size of a shoebox. It's made of mulberry wood, and its walls are so thin the piece weighs about half a pound. The lighter the piece, the greater the skill needed to bring it into being.
"This kid has a future," says Burchard. "He's a hard worker. He's pushing limits of the material. You don't find this that often."