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These Hands

1. Color 2. Shape 3. Nature 4. Commitment 5. Adrenaline Flow

Story and Photography by Nicole Christensen

Close your eyes for a moment and recall back to a drive into the woods. You smell the abundance of beautiful forest pines, yet suddenly you find yourself breathing in the studio of Frank Lench. Every particle of dust crashes into your olfactory sense like a pounding wave on the Oregon coast. The sensations are instantaneous from the moment he opens the door for you, and you enter into his world. At once your eyes bounce from wall to wall, shelf to shelf, and counter to counter. Everything is surrounded in the craftsmanship of his intricate creations. Lench is a kind and humble man, only opening up about his astounding and long-listed accomplishments when poked and prodded. He’s earned these accolades for his attention to detail, often spending 200+ hours on a single piece. Each shaving of fiber, turn and whir of the lathe, controlled brush stroke, and fine etching are painstakingly enacted to perfection, with the end result exactly mimicking the plumage of a beautiful bird.

Frank is complexly simple, which I believe the best artists to be. He has a relaxed intensity that is undeniably felt when in his presence. Never an inkling of ego shown, only a desire to explain away his accomplishments.

He tells me humbly, “My life is about expressing experiences in my pieces. I try not to determine, but allow the piece to tell me what it wants to be.”

The 1,200 exquisite wooden creations Lench’s hands have made have no problem finding good homes. I witnessed this when I visited his selected display of work featured at the Idaho State Capitol.

“This makes me happy,” he remarked when I mentioned it. When I asked him why he kept going with his work, he shrugged, “The encouragement of others is enough for me.”

Just as lovely and unique as each piece his hands have brought to life are the words he orchestrates to speak about his passion. Intrigued, I hang on every word.

“In nature nothing has a straight line, there’s a continuous curve going on. See here, feel it on this bowl. There’s no flat line, feel the soft curves in form,” he tells me, lost in his own words. As his eyes leave the bowl, he smiles. “I turned it, and it opened up inside.”

By turning, Lench is referring to the shaping process used in these types of objects. There are two types of turning: wet turning and dry turning. Clearly, Lench had a great understanding of the topic, yet the explanations that came from his lips were those of a teacher, and I was to understand and appreciate how it came to be from woodblock to finished masterpiece.

“Approach each cut as the final cut. Think all the way through a piece,” he offers careful wisdom.

“Once I chose to invest $10,000 into my more robust lathe, I was real serious,” he jests.  Fascinated by these complex machines, I asked Lench if he would show me what woodturning looked like. Moments later, he placed an unfinished bowl on the lathe and fired it up with a hum. Focused and almost in a meditative trance, he turned. It was a profoundly beautiful process. Spirals, chards, flecks, and dusts of wood infiltrated the air, blanketing Frank’s hands, khakis, navy chambray, and earthen brown vest to fall atop the 1/2 foot pile beneath the lathe. I could tell he was securely at home in his element. A peace overcame his face, and I could tell I was in the presence of a true artist.