Jerry Bradley: artist in wood and Corian

Linda Saholt

News Review Correspondent

Jerry Bradley: artist in wood and CorianHis wood sculptures are so beautifully sanded and buffed to a satin finish that their surfaces feel almost like liquid. Jerry Bradley, sculptor in the Maturango Museum’s Open Studio Tour set for Oct. 27 and 28, will open his converted-garage studio to the tour participants.

To learn more about the tour, see the website at www.maturango. org. The tour is a fundraiser for the museum, and your ticket buys you a self-guided map and directions to the studios of about 30 artists, so you can meet them and see where they create their marvelous art.

Bradley’s sculptures are done in rare woods and Corian, which he described as “basically Plexiglas with a filler in it to make it work like wood.” The material, ordinarily used for custom counter tops, can be worked with woodworking tools. Since Corian runs about $500 a sheet, Bradley often goes to cabinetmakers and buys their sink cutouts and scraps to keep the costs down and his sculptures affordable.

He prefers crafting free-form shapes to distinguish his work from that of artists who use lathes to make turned forms.

“He also likes to combine materials, making wood shapes with insets of Corian or even smooth pebbles. One piece combines precisely shaped wood with a row of chrome-plated ball bearings. Some sculptures are mounted on bases that spin or turn.

While he replicates some of his designs, such as larger-than-life quail, roadrunners and rock art figures, he mostly does one-of-a-kind, signed pieces.

To shape these amazing pieces, he has invented a remarkable machine that is computer-controlled and can move in five different axes, to get to any angle he needs.

“I sort of evolved the process 10 years ago,” he said.

An engineer by background, he designs a piece in computer-assisted design software, then renders it in tool pads that guide the computer numerical controlled router. Then he finishes the piece with many layers of sanding. He can also use the machine to put precise designs on a surface, rather than cutting all the way through. For the tour, he will give demonstrations in his studio.

For the Corian, after the piece is cut out, he heats the material until it is flexible, then carefully bends it in tools he has invented for the purpose.

“I started with a Dremel tool, and cobbled the first machine together from recycled parts. I bought an old steel desk for $20 and put $2,000 of special parts and $2,00 in software into it. There are commercial versions available in the $5,000 to $200,000 range.

“I made some signs, and things with multiple pieces and layers, to make three-dimensional designs. I started making vessels and bowls in wood,” he said.

Today the studio also features sanders, router tables, saws, sanding and dust-control equipment. “There’s a lot of sanding involved,” said Bradley. He has a special machine to sand convex and concave curves, buffers and a really big shop vacuum.

“I don’t have a major mission or vision,” he said. “I enjoy making pieces that are interesting and attractive.

“If something is pleasing to my eye, hopefully others will find it pleasing to their eyes, too. Especially with the wood, I hope people will appreciate not only the shape, but also the wood itself — I like to use rare and unusual wood with a distinctive grain structure, maybe something people haven’t seen before.”

Among the woods he uses are black walnut, zebra wood, purple heart, avocado wood, mahogany, walnut burl and ebony, sometimes in subtle chevron patterns of grain that result from pieces of wood carefully fitted together and joined invisibly.

He has displayed his work in several galleries, both locally and in Cambria and Santa Fe.

Bradley, recently retired, des-cribed his creative process. “I go through the mental process of coming up with the design, often just before going to sleep, which my mind is not busy with other things.

“If I get excited about a piece, I want to work on it. Once I get started on a piece, I’ll work eight to 10 hours on it at a time. I want to see what it looks like when it’s done, Then I do Show and Tell with my wife, Sandy.”

He estimates that a typical piece requires eight to 10 hours of design, five to 10 hours of rough machining and five to 10 hours of hand finishing time, with multiple coats of Tung oil, shellac, steel wool, and a finish coat of hand-rubbed carnuba and beeswax.

“It’s an evolutionary process,” Bradley said. “As I sell pieces, all the money goes back into improving the equipment and tools.

“It’s pretty much a hobby that almost pays for itself.”

Story First Published: 2012-10-03