Art and Function Intertwine in Silvia Song’s Sculptural Wood Tableware
At first glance, one might see Silvia Song as a woodworker or a woodturner. But neither moniker, says the artist, is quite accurate. Instead, Song often describes herself as a “wood potter.” At her studio in the East Bay, she hand-lathes maple, cypress, redwood, white oak and walnut into exquisite bowls, serving boards and butcher blocks that showcase materiality and purity of form.
“Working with wood and with my hands allows me to discover interesting design solutions,” Song explains. “I let the material do what it wants and then, using traditional craft techniques, I help develop the work.”
Though she studied architecture at Cal Poly and UC Berkeley, Song ultimately shifted her focus to furniture design. With just a hammer and a saw, she made her first piece—a bookshelf—which continues to reside in her living room. Embarked on this new path, she approached wood in a way that married her affinity for design with her long-held interest in pottery. “I learned by reading books and looking at various sources online,” Song recalls, and she also enrolled in a course taught by master craftsman David J. Marks. “I took his class because hollow-vessel turning requires you to listen to the wood being carved—you can’t see where the blade touches it, you have to feel it.”
While her imprint on her pieces is evident in traces left by a tool or in the smoothness that her hand-sanding yields, Song seems well aware of her role as a temporary custodian of the wood: It had a life before her as a tree, and will continue on in the care of the owner. Her work has found appreciative audiences at March—for which she created a series of nested indigo bowls in collaboration with natural dyer Kristine Vejar—and Heath Ceramics. She’s currently preparing for a group exhibition in Japan and is teaming up with Japanese company Think Green Produce on a line of dinnerware for a restaurant in Tokyo.
“What I enjoy most about my craft is that I get to work with my hands,” says Song, adding: “It’s an intuitive, transformative process. I can’t predict exactly how something will turn out. I love knowing—and not knowing—what the wood can become.”
A version of this article appeared in the April/May 2015 issue of San Francisco Cottages & Gardens with the headline: Deeply Ingrained.