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Imagination, innovation, education at the Clark County Recycled Arts Festival

Kathleen Duncan will travel far for a great hunk of wood. She once drove all the way to the Maryhill area to collect a massive madrone burl, otherwise known as Pacific cherry, a beautifully pink-to-reddish hardwood that’s a favorite of woodturners like Duncan.

“I’ll die for a great burl,” she said with a grin. But she won’t kill a healthy one, she added. Nearly everything Duncan works with is downed, felled, diseased or simply leftover wood.

“Wood has a way of finding us,” Duncan said of the Pacific Northwest Woodturners Guild. “Everything we work with is material that would have gone into a landfill otherwise.”

That meets the standard for the annual Clark County Recycled Arts Festival. This weekend, the festival will feature a whopping 130-plus artists and artisans who will show and sell creations made from at least 75 percent recycled or re-used material. Duncan and other members of the woodturners guild will be there, showing their wares and demonstrating how woodturning is done.

It’s a woodworking niche that involves using a lathe and handheld tools to create round, symmetrical shapes, such as bowls, cups and vases — not to mention, dainty wooden birds and even magic wands for young magicians, as Duncan likes to do.

When The Columbian stopped by her Mount Vista home for a preview last week, Duncan demonstrated the 10-minute miracle of transforming a sharp cube of raw wood into a pleasingly smooth sphere. Wood shavings and sawdust went flying, and Duncan paused the spin to check the sphere’s true roundness by applying curving metal rings and looking for gaps. (Yes, the shavings and sawdust get used again, too — in chicken coops and even certain local walking paths that she takes it upon herself to fortify, she said.)

Duncan’s inspiration was her father, a Boeing mechanic and hobby woodworker who amazed his daughter with his creativity and skill, but he never actually taught her how to make things herself, she said.

“I grew up in the ’50s,” Duncan said, when girls just didn’t get their hands dirty that way.

She wound up breaking ground in her own way, diving into the male-dominated field of computer science and spending a career writing code for Washington State University. It wasn’t until Duncan inherited her father’s beloved Shopsmith — a lathe, drill press, table saw and sander in one — that Duncan was inspired to try woodturning.

She quickly rediscovered her father’s passion for wood, she said. Seventeen years later, she’s still “learning to do it,” she said modestly, while also exploring sophisticated decorative techniques — using a fine dental drill to pierce, texture and “dimple” the wood. (Side benefit for Duncan: The scream of the drill has become a perfectly pleasant sound to her, she said.)

Now, Duncan is again a leader in a male-dominated field.

“I have never, ever felt uncomfortable” with that, she said, also conceding that her can-do personality must have something to do with it. “If I set my mind to do something, I’m going to do it.”

As a member of the Board of Directors of the American Association of Woodturners, she champions a committee for women woodturners and encourages women to take the plunge.

“Everybody is fascinated” when the lathe starts spinning and sawdust starts streaming, Duncan said. “It’s a whole new adventure each time. The sheer joy of taking a block and seeing what you can make of it — it’s magic.”

Procession of Species

Disguised as a shopping outing that’s good for your conscience, the Recycled Arts Festival is an extravaganza of imagination, innovation and education. Peruse all of the clever, creative wares for sale — jewelry, clothing, housewares, furniture, interior decorations and wall art, glass and metal garden art, fine art pieces and sculpture — and you’ll start to see “trash” in an entirely different way.

As always, this year’s festival also features a busy lineup of main-stage musicians, strolling carnival-style performers and special guests, such as The Falconer, hosting majestic birds of prey and educating the public about wildlife conservation. Robot demonstrations, a shipping container home and a “tossed-and-found” exhibit of re-usable stuff gleaned from landfills are on tap, too.

Want to try your own hand “upcycling” trash into treasures? A well-stocked kids’ activity booth will provide raw materials for kids and their parents to create whatever they can dream up — maybe even nature masks for the parade the morning of June 30.

That’s an idea imported from Olympia a few years ago: a Procession of Species, celebrating the natural world with homemade masks and costumes representing this planet’s flora, fauna and essential elements. Registration opens at 10:30 a.m. June 30, and the all-ages procession gets underway at 11 a.m., led by marching band The Beat Goes On, and it winds up with a costume contest on the main Esther Short Park stage.

Free parking for the Recycled Arts Festival is available at the Clark County Public Service Center garage, 1300 Franklin St., with a shuttle running between there and the south side of Esther Short Park (across from Vancouver City Hall). A secure loading area in the northeast corner of the park is available for shoppers who buy something big and need to pick it up later.

If You Go

What: Recycled Arts Festival.

When: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. June 29, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. June 30. Registration for the Procession of Species opens at 10:30 a.m. June 30; parade begins at 11 a.m.

Where: Esther Short Park, West Eighth and Columbia streets.

Admission: Free.

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