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Arvada artist is finding recovery through woodworking

Robert Nesladek takes wood no one wants, like yard scraps and logs charred by wildfire, and turns them into art.

ARVADA, Colo. — Twenty years ago, Robert Nesladek put down the bottle and picked up a piece of wood.

"When you're in recovery, or starting over, you have to find something to occupy not only your mind, but your hands. You have to keep your hands busy all the time," he said. 

His busy hands turn scrap wood into works of art.

"You just start spinning and the wood kinda tells you what's going to happen," Nesladek said. 

The workshop behind his Arvada home houses two lathes, where he shapes logs into vases, bowls and even urns.

"I've always said I'm trying to find a vase that's going to have the face of Jesus on it or something," he said. "You know, something really, really weird."

Nesladek's art doesn't start as expensive timber sourced from the finest groves. He gets his materials walking around town, picking up what otherwise might be forgotten or turned into mulch. He uses trimmings from the trees on his property. And recently, he was given some wildfire wood from a fire in Alamosa to try out.

"I tried a piece of it, and as you can see, it’s filthy when you first get it," he said. "It’s burnt up, but what’s nice about it is it’s completely dry."

The sap that normally flies out of the spinning wood and clings to his arms and face shield is completely absent. 

And once the bark is off, the beauty beneath is revealed. 

"I've always enjoyed taking the scrappiest looking thing I can find and turning it into something you can sit out on your coffee table," Nesladek said. 

He finishes most of his wood off with a colored stain, but the wildfire wood just gets a clear coat.

"It brings out all the natural colors in the wood," he said. "It gets that charcoal color in there, some light blues and oranges."

It's been 20 years since Nesladek's first piece, a candlestick for his wife. But he said there's always more to learn.

"It's an addiction, like anything," he said. "But it's a good addiction, not destructive like what I was doing. It's something that turns out good when you're finished."

Nesladek's work is on display at Aar River Gallery in Westminster.


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