Jack Lilley’s wood vases and plates might cause you to do a double-take. They look as if they’ve been woven from straw or grasses like a basket, but in fact they are created from a solid piece of wood.

Lilley, who lives in Smyrna in Aroostook County, is a self-employed carpenter who also sells and builds log homes for Moosehead Cedar Log Homes in Greenville. He started woodworking when he was a kid, then got into woodturning about five years ago, using reclaimed wood he gathers by the roadside or from friends who are loggers. At first he made the usual stuff – bowls, bottle stoppers, Shaker boxes, pens. Then one day he discovered a technique called “basket weave illusion” in a woodturners’ magazine.

“It’s very labor intensive, and there’s certain turning techniques that you have to get familiar with,” he said.

It took a lot of trial and error to master the technique: Lilley makes a wooden vase then, using a lathe, cuts around it to create layers of raised wood encircling the piece. (He makes plates as well, but prefers crafting vases.) Then, using a woodburner, he creates individual “beads;” there can be as many as 72 beads in one circle around the vase. Next, he colors those beads with India ink. It’s painstaking, unforgiving work, and in the beginning Lilley was not always successful. Occasionally, he still colors beads in the wrong place, messing up his pattern.

“I have done that a few times,” he said. “As long as it’s not too bad, I have a little scalpel-type thing I can usually get the color off.”

It takes Lilley 20-25 hours to make one vase. He gets design inspiration from native American basketry and African tribal art, but said he never copies designs outright.

Lilley has tried to teach the basket illusion technique to other woodworkers who express interest, but “a lot of them just don’t have the patience for it,” he said. The price of his pieces reflects the amount of work that go into them – they start at $450.

Lilley’s business is called 623 Woodworks. (The number is a reference to a Bible verse.) He crafts the vases and plates in a woodworking shop in his garage and sells his work through his website, 623woodworks.com, an Etsy.com shop, Markings Gallery in Bath, Found in Kennebunk, and the Center for Maine Craft in West Gardiner. He also attends the Portland Fine Craft Show in August.


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