LAS VEGAS, Nev. — Having been selected as finalists in a pair of prestigious national woodworking competitions, Newberg students Todd Halleman and Roehben Sarkisian already felt a strong sense of achievement before they went to showcase their work July 19-22 at the Association of Woodworking and Furniture Suppliers (AWFS) Fair.
And even though Halleman took home second place in his category and Sarkisian received an honorable mention, the eye-opening experience of attending the trade show and interacting with industry veterans may have been even more valuable.
"Just going there and seeing all of the machines and listening what people had to say to me, that really opened up a lot of doors and opened my eyes on what I could do," Sarkisian said.
Halleman, who began turning wood just two years ago, had two pieces selected as finalists in the American Association of Woodturning (AAW) Turning to the Future Competition and placed second in the functional category of the high school division for his curly maple plate.
"I wasn't expecting to place," Halleman said. "They had some amazing things there, so it was an honor to place."
Halleman said that Justin Fiaschetti's African vase, which took first in the functional category and best in show for all high school projects, was a deserving winner.
"I projected (it) would be the winner when I saw it," Halleman said. "To come in second to that was pretty cool."
Both Halleman and Sarkisian attend Newberg High School, but Sarkisian has received most of his training at Anvil Academy, a historic trade school, production shop and learning center located in downtown Newberg. Rather than attending Anvil Academy, it would be more accurate to say that Sarkisian lives there, as he spends most of his free time there, which might be as much or more than owner and operator Rob Lewis.
Sarkisian spent months creating his quarter-scale model of the 1850s mud wagon (a type of stagecoach) that was first built to make the mail run between The Dalles and Canyon City and is still featured in the annual Pendleton Roundup parade.
He was one of 41 overall finalists from high school and college in the AWFS Fresh Wood Competition, which awards just first and second place in most categories. Sarkisian's entry in the high school open category, though, was one of just two in the entire competition to earn an honorable mention and he said earning recognition on a national level was a huge thing for him.
"A lot of the guys with really cool stuff didn't get anything," Lewis added. "So the honorable mention is actually really cool."
Lewis, who taught at the Oregon College of Art and Craft for eight years, said the level of skill displayed at the show made the honors that Halleman and Sarkisian received that much more meaningful.
"Some of the stuff I saw there was way over and above a lot of the stuff I saw coming out of the craft school," Lewis said. "I was very impressed with the whole thing."
Sarkisian said he was inspired by an address given by actor John Ratzenberger, who played the character of Cliff on television's "Cheers" and lobbied that more students should be encouraged to learn how to work with their hands in settings outside of the traditional classroom.
"I loved that, just the opportunities that are out there," Sarkisian said.
Although contestants did not receive feedback from the judges, Halleman and Sarkisian found the experience of showcasing their pieces and interacting with professionals to be worthwhile.
"It takes an eye to see what goes into projects because it's nothing normal," Sarkisian said. "Some people that understood it were really quite impressed and I loved talking to them. A lot of people had some nice things to say and I really liked that (as well)."
Halleman said that a carved teapot featuring some interesting texturing caught his eye, so he had a long conversation with the artist and now plans to experiment with the technique, which utilizes a particular bit and an angle grinder.
"There were some things that really inspired me and made me want to try some of those things," Halleman said. "There were some incredible things there."
Sarkisian also plans to widen his repertoire after participating in seminars about inlaying and cold casting.
Lewis, who also took Sarkisian on a side trip to California to visit Virginia City, Jamestown and a railroad museum in Sacramento, may have been more awed by AWFS fair than his student.
"I've never been to one of those shows," Lewis said. "I think the building was half a mile long and the complete cabinet shop they set up in there, with robots and everything, was beyond amazing. Roehben got an education, but I did too. I've never seen such a thing."
After seeing how well the student competitions were showcased within the trade show, Lewis said his goal is now to bring as many students as he can in two years when they are held again.
"They really did the kids justice the way they did everything," Lewis said. "We were treated like royalty and kind of had the run of the show."
In the meantime, locals will have a chance to check out Sarkisian and Halleman's work, and see a woodturning demonstration by Halleman, Friday evening at Anvil Academy during Art Walk.
"Two kids from Newberg got really high honors, which is a really big deal," Lewis said. "I was really impressed with both of those kids."