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Richard Raffan

I began to turn wood in England in 1970 at the age of 26 and after a successful career in the London wine trade. I was never a hobby turner. When I decided to turn wood for a living late in 1969 I knew nothing of the craft other than it involved a lathe and tools with long handles. I reckoned that if I enjoyed the craft all I had to do was develop good technical skills and marketing, and I'd earn a decent living selling what I enjoy making. And that that's what I've done since mid-1970, first in England, then, from 1982, Australia. Being the only turner juried into The Craftsman's Art, a seminal exhibition in London in 1973, was a great boost to my career as that led to my bowls being in a lot of major exhibitions and on the British Crafts Council Slide Index Selection Panel from 1973 to 1980.

In 1970 I had to create a market for the one-off bowls I inevitably produced as a novice, but after two sales trips I got repeat orders. I was turning utilitarian bowls, scoops, and plates that sold to kitchen, gift, and souvenir shops; and I also sold a lot of delicate bowls, scoops, and boxes to gift shops and craft galleries. I never needed to consign work and that's why I've seldom had work in American galleries. Immigrating to Australia was risky business-wise because I had to start over in a new environment, but fortunately that didn't take too long.

I began teaching formally in 1978 when Highland Craftpoint, in Scotland, asked me to advise embryo craft businesses in the Highlands and Islands. Apart from that I did very little teaching until I became a regular presenter for Dale Nish at the Utah Woodturning Symposiums in the 1980s; then demand took off after my book and video Turning Wood with Richard Raffan were published in 1985. Subsequent books and videos increased requests for me to lead workshops, and, although I enjoy teaching, it's only ever been ancillary to my woodturning business and a welcome change from my workshop routine.

I am proud of the fact that, unlike so many in the arts and crafts community, I have always been able to earn a good living by selling what I make (rather than teaching to pay the bills). But now, after forty years of turning wood, and as I drift into my retirement years, I'm moving away from the lathe and making a few little boats and other stuff using wood and found bits and pieces — and having a great time.

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