Pat and Peggy Bookey

Monday 9 July 2018

From the Wright brothers to Lennon and McCartney, the power of the partnership is something that can't be denied; but in the world of woodturning, it's not that often harnessed. Husband and wife Pat and Peggy Bookey are one of relatively few exceptions to the rule, pooling together their skills in turning and piercing respectively to create striking, distinctive pieces of wood art from their home in Alaska.


Pat's interest in woodwork stems back to his school days, and while still in high school he sold a few lathe-made tables and other projects at a local furniture store, though woodwork took a back seat when he embarked on his career as a music teacher. Peggy was also interested in craft from a young age, making her own school clothes as a teenager, and taking an interest in pottery in the eighth grade, through which she learned about texture, shape and colour; this would have a lasting effect on her future as a piercer. In their retirement – both from a career in teaching – Pat set up a small woodturning workshop in their garage: “It all started because I needed something to do during the long Alaska winters!” he says, and Peggy took up hand carving eggs, delicately creating scenes on chicken, guinea fowl and duck eggs, gradually expanding to the more exotic emu and ostrich eggs. Peggy learned to use the power carver by trial and error – as there were no local egg carvers, she relied on the Internet for information. In the end persistence prevailed, but despite working side-by-side, it was several years before Pat and Peggy combined their talents.

Working together

The Bookeys attended the Desert Woodturners' Symposium in Arizona in February 2007, and were both mesmerised by the work of Binh Pho, which incorporated turning, piercing and airbrushing. Returning home with a brand new airbrush, gold paints, an NSK carver and all the accessories, Pat and Peggy began to collaborate; the thin-walled vessels would be turned by Pat, and then Peggy would use the combination of her egg carving experience and the newfound inspiration from the work of Binh Pho, Brian McEvoy, Joey Richardson and J. Paul Fennell to enhance the surfaces of Pat's turnings, gradually developing her own style of piercing. There were, however, plenty of other things keeping the pair busy: “We have had a significant role in raising our two grandchildren,” Peggy explains, “So we developed a system where Pat would turn a vessel while I looked after the kids, then we would switch and I'd work as fast as possible on the piercing… it was one heck of a feat working at that speed, I really pushed that drill!” As the grandchildren got older, Peggy was able to gradually slow down and the couple began to use the abundant local birch (Betula pendula) less, favouring quality burrs. Slowing down and using strong surgeon's magnifying glasses helped to reduce the eyestrain Peggy experienced, although PJ Peery of TreelineUSA tells us, “Peggy is still one of the fastest piercers I've ever seen.” After working at their new collaboration for some time, the couple made their first foray into the woodturning arena at the AAW Four Corners Contest. The Alaska portion of the contest was held in Anchorage and judged by Dick Sing and Soren Berger; the Bookeys won best of show with their piece 'Rose n' wood', but they didn't take the win complacently, and asked J. Paul Fennell to further critique the piece: “It took me about 15 minutes before I could stop crying and comprehend J. Paul Fennell's suggestions!” Peggy says, but constructive criticism from experienced turners has always benefited their work.

Style and inspiration

The work Pat and Peggy produce benefits stylistically from their different influences and skills, but perhaps what is most important is that as lifelong partners their level of understanding and openness with one another could not be greater: “Peggy's relentless suggestions gave me the confidence to continue to improve,” Pat notes, “My greatest influence has been my wife. She has always praised me when I've improved, and let me know when she felt what I had made was horrible and needed bettering!” When it comes to his turning style, Pat describes his work as “semi-classical to classical… but as I grow in experience and technique, my style keeps changing.” Of the countless turners who helped him along the way with tool technique, Pat makes special mention of the late, great Bert Marsh: “His book, wonderful personality and natural eye for form have had a great influence on my work. I was fortunate enough to meet him once when we were both demonstrating at the 25th Utah Woodturning Symposium. What an honour!” Pat turns mainly thin-walled bowls and vases, bottle stoppers, pet urns and hollow turnings, with a penchant for flowing lines, smooth transitions, ogee shapes and beautifully figured woods and burls. Peggy's piercing area is defined by placing rings below the bowl rim and above a bottom ring, thus making the piercing a focal point on the turning; this was after advice from Mike Mahoney and David Nittmann – the Bookeys are always looking for comments and criticism to help develop their work. Another key facet to Peggy's piercing work is the tropical subject matter, which you wouldn't immediately expect from a couple located in the aptly named North Pole, Alaska. Since the pair began to market their works in Hawaii, their designs have been centred on Hawaiian scenes such as local flowers, turtles, birds and whales, often using koa (Acacia koa) wood. Sales had begun to slow in Alaska with the economic downturn, galleries were closing and gift shops were no longer buying the more high-end work, which left Pat and Peggy needing to find new outlets. “We love to visit that state every year to defrost, so it made sense,” Peggy tells us, and who would blame them? As Pat said when describing the highs and lows of turning: “The lows in North Pole, Alaska can be between -50 and -60ºF… now that really is low!” Their Hawaiian idea was not immediately successful; one gallery owner even refused to believe that Peggy's piercing had not been accomplished using a laser. However, when Pat and Peggy brought their work to the Martin & MacArthur gallery, the salesperson insisted they show their work to the CEO, Michael Tam. Having had several rejections from previous galleries they had visted, they accepted with some trepidation, but when they showed Michael their work, his eyes lit up, Peggy says: “He couldn't stop turning the bowl over and over, commenting on the intricate pierced holes and scenes on the wood.” Now Pat and Peggy are fortunate enough to say they spend their work trips in Hawaii.

A day in the workshop

“I normally work six days a week,” Pat tells us, “I drop the kids off for school at about 9:30am, and then I work until about 1pm. I like all the aspects of making items in the shop… it may seem strange, but I even enjoy the laborious sanding, now I have learned not to leave any tearout!” The Bookeys work from the 7.3 x 8.5m workshop they built to upgrade from the garage, complete with dust collecting equipment, cabinets, two bandsaws, three lathes, a tablesaw, kiln, chop saw, a special room for finishing and a dedicated 1.8 x 3m room for Peggy to work her piercing magic on Pat's turnings. Peggy's area is packed with an assortment of supplies; a myriad of art and design books, several power carvers and airbrush tools, trays of burrs, shelves of paints and cleaners, magnifying lenses, breathers and masks, stacks of stencils, and it is decorated with paintings and prints of cats, showing the many past and present kitties in Peggy's life. There's a bright pink chair for any one of the six little dogs that are often in the shop too! Pat's area is similarly personalised: “It's filled with almost everything a turner could want, and I also have my African animals on the walls, and a stereo filling the air with wonderful music,” he tells us.

The future

“When time permits, and we are not filling orders, I like to visit different sites on the Internet to see what is happening in the woodturning field,” Peggy says, and keeping in touch with others' work helps the Bookeys to keep thinking of new ideas; for example, adding colour and pyrography to their work are both on the agenda at the moment. Of course, as we all find, time constraints do inevitably exist, and so this limits the amount of experimentation the pair can accomplish. “Once we overcome that hurdle, we might once again take a new direction!” But one thing is for certain; this husband and wife team keep each other going and definitely spur each other on: “I was going to stop piercing about six years ago,”

says Peggy, “but Pat pushed me on and supported me along the way. If it wasn't for him, we wouldn't be where we are today.”