Robin is a wood turner and he now lives in Arcozelo, a village in northern Portugal.
He has also been heavily involved with humanitarian work around the world since 1994.
Many years ago – when I was twelve if I remember correctly, my English teacher told me with a weary shake of the head and a skyward roll of the eyes that I was a dilettante. From his tone of voice and his expression, I suspected that this was not a good thing to be – but I have three confessions to make.
The first is that I rather liked the sound of the word dilettante – and therefore rather wanted to be one.
The second is that even after I had looked it up in my dictionary, it took me a while to realise that this was not meant as a compliment.
The third is that he was probably right – at least partially so. Even at twelve, far too many things I stumbled across intrigued me. Many of them were far too esoteric for the rather blinkered private school system that was to provide my education. I say partially correct, as I have always been interested in everything around me and always wanted to learn more. I still have a feeling that I will never have enough time to enjoy and experience all these things – so, inevitably, I am “Jack of all trades, master of none”, although I try very hard to master all I do.
Thus, my life has been rather like looking at an alpine meadow – a lot of climbing up very steep slopes to get there and with pauses at all the most beautiful points to take in the views. Once there though, wandering about feasting on the wonderful colours, shapes and forms that life provides, if you are prepared to look with eyes wide open.
Co-author and photographer for the first book on mosses,
lichens and liverworts in North America.
I am a biologist and have spent half my life in mainstream conservation, mostly in the UK and Canada, but more recently in the Sudan. It was during this time that my interest in the textures and forms in nature began to intrigue me – and this eventually led to my first book in 1988, Mosses Lichens and Ferns of Northwest North America, which has been reprinted.
It was my fascination with the colour, shape, form and texture of lichens – which was patiently explained during botanical trips in central Wales with Ray Woods – that led me to start taking photographs of lichens and happily evolved into an exhibition of my photographs Cryptogams at the Royal Alberta Museum in conjunction with the Ringhouse Gallery at the University of Alberta.
This appreciation in the beauty of natural design has led to my starting to turn wood. How better to show the beauty of a piece of wood and its hidden textures and shapes, than to turn the piece of wood and uncover all the beauty of the grain and colours i a multi-dimensional form?
In 1994 I was selected to train as a Red Cross international delegate and after that worked with the International Committee of the Red Cross in many countries – Afghanistan, Kosovo, Darfur, Indonesia and East Timor – and with the Red Cross movement in Mozambique, where I came face to face with woodturning. Thanks to the support of my wife, Hjördís, who supported me while I taught myself how to turn a piece of wood. Now that I can make a piece of wood round and have had the time to enjoy experimenting, I am happy to find that other people are enjoying the finished products! I never tire of my workshop and have been lucky enough to have exhibitions in Germany, Portugal and Iceland.
My great joy was the woodturning workshop that we built at our home in Covas, northern Portugal. A huge thank you to Hjördís, as she was the project manager for the work (while I was away in Darfur) and for overseeing all the beautiful work to our home too!
This blog is about setting up that studio – and my experiences in turning wood. It is also about how I am currently looking for a new workshop in Arcozelo, where we have recently moved. My work is available for sale and can be seen at Logs to Art on Facebook.
In the meantime, I am still working in the development and humanitarian field – albeit on a rather more temporary basis. I came back from Darfur in Sudan in 2008, where I had worked for two years with the Danish Refugee Council and expected to be here in Portugal for a while.
In South Sudan - answering questions.
But things never turn out quite how you expect – well, my life does not in any case! In 2009 I was asked to join the United nations Environment Programme as the head of their new Sudan Project – the largest UNEP country programme, where I was based full time in Khartoum until 2013. Since then I have continued to support the work of UNEP in Sudan, but I spend much more of my time in Portugal.
I first worked in Sudan in 2004 for ICRC and then returned for two years in 2007/08 with Danish Refugee Council. I returned with the U N Environment Programme in 2009 and am still working there part time!!
ICRC – I have been a delegate for the International Committee of the Red Cross in many countries – Afghanistan, Kosovo, Sudan, Indonesia and East Timor to name some. It is the oldest humanitarian organisations and works in conflict areas.
The Danish Refugee Council – I returned from nearly two years in West Darfur in December 2008.