As a third generation Floridian, Paula Nicks grew up in a family of commercial fisherman and boat builders. She has been around wood construction as long as she can remember. Born in Clearwater, she spent most of her childhood in the Keys and Homestead. As a youngster she was better known for her athletic abilities than her artistic endeavors. In high school she wanted to take industrial arts (shop), but she was well before her time. Title IX was unheard of and public schools had less than raised consciousness about “non-traditional” interests among females.
After graduating from the University of South Florida with a bachelor’s degree in education, Nicks taught elementary physical education in Lee County for eight years. During that time she became fascinated with the tee-shirt screen printing business, resigned her teaching position and purchased an existing tee-shirt business in the old downtown section of Ft. Myers. After many years the retail store was closed and a more lucrative screen printing business was started. Pressures from the screen printing business made the need for a hobby critical, and eventually, she found the lathe.
Throughout her life Nicks has built many objects from wood: crooked boxes and uneven shelves among them. “My inability to cut and measure accurately was one of the main reasons I chose the lathe. I could make a beautiful object and for the most part my measurements were not especially crucial.”
Before she invested in a lathe, Nicks studied books and tapes on the subject, but her life changed when she discovered Arrowmont, a crafters’ retreat and school in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. “The instructors and fellow turners from these classes have had a huge impact on the turner I am today.”
“We are so fortunate in Florida. We have woods that are considered Caribbean Basin tree – tropical hardwoods.” states Nicks. She specializes in Florida grown woods for their beauty and rarity. Manu of the trees she gets come from private residences or cinstruction sites. Often they are headed for the landfill or mulching machine. People frequently call to tell her about a tree they have or a tree they’ve seen being cut. She hooks up her trailer, loads up her chain saw and hand truck and sets off in search of the perfect tree.
Once Nicks gets her logs home, she coats both ends with wax and stacks them until she’s ready to turn. She turns her pieces green, gets the basic shape leaving the piece fairly thick, removes them from the lathe and allows them to dry for two to three months. Once the piece has set for a few months she remounts it on the lathe and turns it down to between 1/2″ and 1/4″ in thickness, depending on the piece and its use. Her pieces are finished with food safe oils, urethane or lacquer – again, depending upon the finished product’s use.
Much of Nicks’ work reveals something out-of-the-ordinary about the tree from which her piece originated: an attack of wood eating vermin, extreme changes from nature or man’s intervention – perhaps a nail or clothesline. When it is possible, Nicks returns a piece of the tree in its new form to the site where the tree originally grew, reflecting her Native American heritage and need to be one with nature. For the same reason she uses limited application of color to her pieces.preferring to allow the natural beauty and spirit from within the wood to be revealed.