This is a busy weekend for Dan Stearns of Hereford. Behind four tables at booth 52, Stearns is showing his beautiful lustrous wares.
“I make wooden bowls turned on one of my two lathes,” he said modestly.
For nearly all of Sierra Vista’s Art in the Park weekends over the last 10 years Stearns has been in this spot at Veterans Memorial Park on Fry Boulevard. The event is sponsored by the city of Sierra Vista and organized by Huachuca Arts Association. The event concluded Sunday. Hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Stearns said this particular booth location is important because for one, it’s shaded. More importantly, however, is this is where his repeat customers know they will find him.
“Most of my sales are from repeat customers,” he said. “They come back, they know where I’m at. They say, ‘What’s new this year?’ and they just start picking it up.”
It’s not surprising he has repeat customers. Lois Bravo, a board member of the arts organization, speaks highly of Stearns’ work.
“He’s been attending our show many years and his quality of work shows or people wouldn’t be buying it if it didn’t work,” she said. “It is beautiful.”
Stearns’ wares begin life as a part of mesquite trees, because they are local and accessible, though he sometimes uses other species. Sometimes it’s just a branch from a tree on his property that gets in the way while he is mowing the grass. In fact, Stearns said just about all the wood he uses has been given to him; there’s a pile of it in front of his workshop. He doesn’t dry the wood, preferring, instead, to use it while it’s still green. There is a reason.
“The bugs have not had a chance to get in and eat it all and you don’t wind up with those big holes in the wood,” he said.
Also, mesquite, unlike other wood species, keeps its shape as it dries. There are also the cracks, which have to be filled in with epoxy. Because this is the Southwest, Stearns uses turquoise, but the turquoise has a secret.
“It’s plastic so I can sand it so it won’t hurt my tools while it’s turning,” he said.
Once Stearns selects a piece of wood, he strips it of bark and secures it to one of his two lathes. Then it’s time to gouge, shape and sand the wood until he has what looks like a bowl. He still has to fill cracks, a process that can take days if the cracks and knots aren’t too big; sand some more; then coat the wood with an oil concoction that is his own recipe. The last step is to sign the piece. Depending on the size and amount of the cracks, the process from start to finish may take six or seven hours.
By the time he opened to customers on Saturday morning, Stearns had made 50 bowls, and only 50. He expects to bring 10 home Sunday night. He prices the bowls reasonably; the price normally is about $50 to $60, though that can go up depending on size and epoxy use. He said the sales fund his hobby. He has bought a new lathe; new hand tools, the kind he uses to make more bowls; and feed for the chickens. He really does it just for fun.
“This is a hobby,” Stearns said. “It’s just what I like to do. It’s my little Zen moment out here. My dogs sit here and watch; and my little boy, he’s not so little anymore, he likes to clean the shop. He’s a good helper.”