Mississippi Folklife announces the new Fall 2021 Issue: Performances and the Pandemic.

Sammy Long + Dustin Barrick

Sammy Long + Dustin Barrick
Sammy Long and Dustin Barrick participated in the Mississippi Arts Commission’s 2019-2020 Folk Arts Apprenticeship Program. This grants program supports the survival and continued evolution of community-based traditional art forms. During the apprenticeship, the master artist teaches specific skills, techniques and cultural knowledge to the apprentice, who is an emerging artist of the same tradition. Participants are awarded $2,000 to assist with the teaching fees for the master artist and other expenses such as travel costs and supplies. To learn more about the program, click here.

Introduction 

Master woodturner Sammy Long first met Dustin Barrick a year before their apprenticeship. Dustin wanted to participate in the program to learn the basics of woodturning, specifically for making bowls, including selection, building a form, and finishing techniques. Sammy believes that Dustin’s passion will inspire younger generations to carry on the craft. 

Master Artist: Sammy Long 

Master woodturner, Sammy Long. Photo courtesy of the artist.

Main image above: Decorative bowl, cherry wood turned with textured rim by Sammy Long. Photo by Roy Adkins of Light and Glass Studio.

Sammy Long started woodturning 21 years ago when his father-in-law gave him an old Harbor Freight wood lathe. As a machinist, Sammy had experience in working a metal lathe, but this was his first time working with wood. Metal lathes are automatic, but wood lathes are manual, which means the operator has to have full control over the entire process. The wood lathe his father-in-law gave him did not have the attachments Sammy required at the time, but it did spark his interest in woodturning. 

For his birthday that year, his wife gave him a week-long beginner’s woodturning class at the Appalachian Center for Craft in Smithville, Tennessee. There he started learning about basic bowl turning. He was immediately hooked. Now, Sammy is an accomplished woodturner teaching his own classes and he has pieces in several museums throughout Mississippi. 

Sammy Long is recognized as a master of his craft by his fellow woodturners in Mississippi. These are two turned hollow vessels, each pierced and carved from one piece of wood. Photos by Roy Adkins of Light and Glass Studio.

Sammy discusses how he learned woodturning, and how he developed his own personal style:

“There’s week-long classes at different art schools like Arrowmont (School of Arts and Crafts) which is in Tennessee, and John C. Campbell (Folk School) in North Carolina. I took my vacations from work in order to take these classes with different artists and forms of work. Eventually after several of those, I took a carving class and that is what got me into doing what I’m doing today. That opened the door for me more than any of the rest of them.”

Apprentice: Dustin Barrick

Because bowls require advanced techniques, focusing on bowl turning offered Dustin the opportunity to improve his woodturning skills and gain new ones.

Before meeting Sammy, apprentice Dustin Barrick had little experience with woodturning other than some basic furniture building for his home. He had been watching some instructional YouTube videos and expressed an interest in the craft to his wife, who then purchased a mini lathe for him as a Christmas gift. To get more hands-on experience, Dustin joined the Magnolia Woodturners, an association of woodturners in Jackson who meet once a month to exchange tips, give presentations, and show off their creations. It was there that Dustin met Sammy, and Sammy serves as the Program Director of the association. He appreciated Dustin’s enthusiasm for learning and offered to teach him through the apprenticeship program. 

Dustin Barrick holding one of his turned bowls. “A very hardworking student,” says Sammy Long about his apprentice. “[Dustin] was very proud of himself for what he had accomplished and he should be.”
Photo courtesy of Sammy Long.

Apprenticeship Experience 

Sammy explains the structure of their apprenticeship, which focused on bowl turning:

“When we first got started, I asked Dustin what he would like to work on, what were his goals. He wanted to work on bowls, so that was the main objective. We started out with green wood. Green wood is when the log is initially cut. It’s very wet, and it has to be roughed out. After a drying process, you go back and complete that bowl several months down that road… We even got to get some chainsaw time in. We went to the woods and cut up a large cherry tree. So, we went all the way from the chainsaw, to cutting up the plank, to turning the green wood, and then turning the dry wood and sanding and finishing it.” 

Because bowls require advanced techniques, focusing on bowl turning offered Dustin the opportunity to improve his woodturning skills and gain new ones. In the quote below, Dustin gives examples of the types of skills and techniques he was able to learn during the apprenticeship.

Apprentice Dustin Barrick turns the inside of a bowl made out of cherry wood. Photo courtesy of Sammy Long

“During my sessions with Sammy I learned a lot. We started at the very beginning with how to process a piece of wood so that it can be used. We covered how to take that piece of wood and prepare it for turning: finding center, cutting it on the bandsaw, and mounting it on the lathe. From there, we covered how to turn the project we were working on. Again, Sammy started with basic techniques such as stance, tool rest height, grip on the tool, etc. I learned proper presentation of the tool to perform specific cuts. Another important skill I improved on was sharpening my tools. We did several different types of turning. Sammy also helped me learn how to take a dry blank that had been roughed out, finish turning it, and completely finish the project. It has been a great experience and I have learned a lot. The quality of my turning has gotten much better throughout this process.” 

Sammy and Dustin sought to meet every two weeks, which was easier in the winter after fall football season, which Dustin coaches. When the Covid-19 pandemic first shut down the schools, there was more time for them to work together in the shop--masked, of course. They met for a full day, spending five to six hours together at a time. When they weren’t out collecting wood, they worked together in the studio. It was important for Sammy to first learn Dustin’s strengths and weaknesses, and to build the lessons from there. Some days were very hands on, with lots of interaction, and others they would just listen to music and work.

A bowl turned by Dustin Barrack during his apprenticeship with Sammy Long. Photo courtesy of Sammy Long.

Conclusion

Sammy sought to teach Dustin the basic techniques of turning, while encouraging him to develop his own style. Sammy typically visits two or three craft shows a year to sell his work, while also selling from home and teaching. Like his teacher, Dustin hopes to continue his craft and create pieces for his family and community.

 

In the fall of 2020, the Mississippi Arts Commission (MAC) hosted their annual State Arts Conference virtually. During the conference, one artist from each of the five apprenticeship pairs spoke about their apprenticeship experiences and take-aways for a panel facilitated by MAC’s Folk and Traditional Arts Director, Maria Zeringue. In this video, master artist Sammy Long talks about facilitating lessons during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

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Amanda Malloy

Amanda Malloy

Amanda Malloy is the Visual Arts Editor at Mississippi Folklife. She graduated with a B.A. in Liberal Studies from the University of Mississippi. She also received her M.A. from the University of Mississippi in Southern Studies, focusing on southern photography. Amanda has presented at various conferences and institutions, including the Southern Studies Conference at Auburn at Montgomery as well as the Center for the Study of Southern Culture. She has also received the Special Achievement Award from the Mississippi Institute of Arts and Letters for her collaboration and performance in The Passions of Walter Anderson: A Dramatic Celebration of the Mississippi Gulf Coast Artist.