The carving tool in William Bellucci's hands touched the spinning chunk of South Dakota walnut, sending spiral shavings flying around his work space. As the pile of wooden ribbons grew with each rotation, he slowly worked the piece into a round hollow shape during the first stage of the turning process.
The roughly carved vessel secured on his lathe has at least a year to wait before it is transformed into one of the polished golden brown works of art that Bellucci and his business partner, Rachel Scheffel, create seven days a week.
The good friends are wood turners. They take a segment of tree trunk and transform it into all shapes of vessels - including bowls, urns and platters - as owners of Woods of Wisdom in Rapid City.
Each piece is shaped to showcase the biological history of the tree - the age rings. Like fingerprints, the colors and grain patterns that naturally
exist within the trees allow Bellucci and Scheffel to create unique pieces every time. After seven years of working together, they are still able to turn a piece into a shape that surprises one another.
"It's never the same; it's like meeting people. It doesn't end in versatility. It doesn't end with the amount of surprises that you can have," Bellucci said.
The pair met in Alaska in 2003. Scheffel signed up for one of Bellucci's wood- turning classes and she has continued learning ever since. At the same time, Woods of Wisdom and their friendship was born.
"She's going to be better than me, and I love that," Bellucci said. The self-taught wood turner has worked with wood his entire life.
The two are never certain what they will find encased inside the bark, but each work of art begins the same way, with a tree.
We get excited because of the possibilities," Bellucci said.
Regardless of species, the tree must be healthy before Bellucci and Scheffel will harvest it for art. Once the tree is felled, the two artists slice the tree into segments. The pair must quickly paint the fresh cuts of the tree trunk with wax to avoid cracks in the wood.
"You want to keep the moisture within that tree. The removal of the moisture creates cracks," Bellucci said. "And, in our business of making the things that we make, the more that we can avoid cracks, the happier that we are. The healthier the piece."
Back at the workshop, the hewn chunks of tree are pierced onto their lathes for the first turn, removing the bark and creating the basic shape. All the pieces Bellucci and Scheffel create are ¾-inch to 1-inch thick because 1 inch of wood requires one year to dry. The shaped piece is added to the drying pile where it sits for at least a year, but most likely more. Not every piece that is ready is used, which creates a year-round buildup of vessels.
"We are able now to go into the bin and say, ‘What do you want to become?' because we now have a lot of pieces that are ready for that second turn," Bellucci said.