Wood work: Mike Snegg’s handcrafted wooden bowls on display at Nevada City art gallery | TheUnion.com

Wood work: Mike Snegg’s handcrafted wooden bowls on display at Nevada City art gallery

Emily Lavin
Staff Writer
Mike Snegg, left, and LeeAnn Brook with one of Snegg's handcrafted wooden vessels. Snegg's work will be on display, along with Brook's paintings, during a month-long exhibition at the LeeAnn Brook Fine Art Gallery in Nevada City.
Erin Pardini/Special to The Union |

Know & Go

What: Opening reception for ‘Where on Earth,” a contemporary nature-inspired art show

When: Friday, April 22

Where: 300 Spring St., Nevada City

More info: http://www.leeannbrookfineart.com

Mike Snegg has made a name for himself in Nevada County and beyond with his business ventures. In the 1970s, he opened Good Morning Natural Food and Grain, a grocery store in Nevada City. He eventually transitioned into a career in real estate. He launched Grass Roots Realty in 1980; two years later, he bought one of the first Coldwell Banker franchises in the country; he would eventually own four such franchises in the area.

He has made a living buying multi-tenant industrial buildings and commercial real estate, and started a real estate investment company in the Bay Area.

He never really saw himself becoming an artist.

But in 2008, Snegg’s father passed away, and Snegg inherited the entire contents of his dad’s wood shop — including a lathe, a machine that can be used to shape wood.

Snegg was curious about the tool.

“Maybe I should try making bowls,” he thought.

He began transforming burls — tree growths that usually form due to some kind of stress — into handcrafted wooden bowls. Woodturning quickly became his passion — just ask his wife, Nina.

“Every day he comes home and he barely says hi to me,” she joked. “He runs to the shop to make another bowl.”

Several of Snegg’s large-scale wooden bowls will be on display in a new contemporary nature-inspired art show being held in honor of Earth Day at the LeeAnn Brook Fine Art Gallery, 300 Spring St. in Nevada City.

“Where on Earth,” which runs through May 29, kicks off tonight with a reception from 6-9 p.m. at the gallery. Snegg’s work will be complemented by Brook’s mixed media drawings and paintings; each painting will feature a tree from which Snegg’s bowls were made. The exhibition will also feature a video showing how Snegg creates the wooden bowls.

Snegg, 68, is originally from Southern California. His father David was something of an entrepreneur, Snegg said, pioneering the equipment rental industry. David eventually started The Tool Crib in Pasadena, which would grow to become one of the largest equipment rental companies in the United States.

David was also a welder and a woodworker. After he sold The Tool Crib, he took a furniture-making course at a local community college. He took to the craft so well he was nicknamed “Geppetto” for all the furniture he made, Snegg said.

Snegg said when he began to explore woodturning, he was just following in his father’s footsteps. He got a book on woodturning, and “just taught myself until I was fairly proficient at it,” he said.

Then, he took his studies to the next level, participating in bowl-turning class with Jerry Kermode, a renowned bowl-maker in Sebastopol. Snegg has continued to study with several artists experienced in the medium.

Woodturning is an involved process, Snegg said. It starts with a burl that can weigh up to several hundred pounds. The wood goes on to the lathe, which spins it around. Snegg uses a variety of tools to shape the wood and hollow it out. When the bowls are finished, Snegg places them in the basement to dry, which can take months; Snegg weighs a finished bowl every day, and when its weight holds steady for several days in a row, the bowl has dried.

The finished products display the natural grains and imperfections of the original wood they were made from — one of Snegg’s favorite aspects of the process.

“The neat part of working with wood like this is you don’t know what’s inside or how it’s going to look until you dig it out,” Snegg said. “You never know what it’s going to look like until you start cutting it.”

Snegg’s bowls are collected by people all around the world — including former President Jimmy Carter. Thanks to Snegg’s son’s involvement with the Carter Center, the family was invited to a Carter Center event; a member of the center’s staff got word of Snegg’s artistic efforts, and asked Snegg to bring a bowl for Carter, who is also a woodworker.

Snegg crafted an olive wood bowl, which Snegg dubbed “The Olive Bowl for Peace,” for Carter. When the two men met at The Carter Center, they talked about sanding and finishing wood, and Snegg told Carter about the process he goes through to make the bowls.

“No politics, just woodworking,” Snegg said of their exchange.

Brook and Snegg had been acquaintances for many years before Brook heard about Snegg’s woodturning. Snegg’s bowls are featured regularly at Brook’s gallery, on a rotating basis.

Brook said Snegg’s sense of design really stands out to her because he’s constantly exploring new sizes and techniques.

“You can see he really pushes himself to explore what’s next,” Brook said.

Snegg said it took him awhile to see himself as an artist and see his woodturning as art — but that’s never been a question for those who know him or know his work, Nina Snegg said.

“It’s developed into something that’s really important to him,” she said.

She added, “It’s a lifelong passion.”

To contact Staff Writer Emily Lavin, email elavin@theunion.com or call 530-477-4230.

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