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The auction's youngest artist

Fragrant wood shavings fly as Talon Stammen, 16, puts a chisel to the maple round he's mounted on the lathe in his grandfather's workshop. On a nearby wall, a framed poster shows a wide-eyed baby Talon holding a hammer over a block of wood. His g...

Talon Stammen with his grandfather Art Grabowski in Grabowski's workshop. Stammen started working with his grandfather at the age of 5 when he began whittling. Herald photo by John Stennes.

Fragrant wood shavings fly as Talon Stammen, 16, puts a chisel to the maple round he's mounted on the lathe in his grandfather's workshop. On a nearby wall, a framed poster shows a wide-eyed baby Talon holding a hammer over a block of wood. His grandfather is standing behind him, watching carefully.

Grandfather Art Grabowski has had a big influence in Talon's life, particularly as his first teacher in the art of woodworking. And he's a big part of why, tonight, one of Talon's pieces will be sold during the annual North Dakota Museum of Art Gala fundraiser, apparently making Talon the youngest artist ever in the auction.

Talon's piece, which is untitled, is a 4.5-by-6-by-5-inch wooden bowl carved from the burl of a tree, rubbed with linseed oil and rich with veins, patterns and colors from golden to dark chocolate.

"Wood is wonderful," Talon said. "It's so unpredictable. You never know what it's going to be."

Talon's interest and skill in woodworking is such that his mother, Mary Stammen, laughingly describes him as "obsessed." In addition to artistic woodworking, he carves, builds furniture and is helping his father build log cabins. He likes reading about woodworking, too, to learn about techniques and tools. One of his favorite books, "The Unknown Craftsman: A Japanese Insight into Beauty," by Yanagi Soetsu, explores the philosophy of his craft.


His father, Larry Stammen, said Talon is mostly passionate about the outdoors.

Talon, named for a character in a Louis L'Amour novel, has lived in Grand Forks most of his life and grew up spending hours in his grandfather's well-lit, well-organized garage workshop.

"Ever since I can remember, I've seen my grandpa working in the woodworking shop. And little by little, he showed me how to use the tools and run the machines," Talon said. "And ever since, I've been interested in woodworking."

He started whittling when he was 5, starting taking carving lessons at 8, and at 11, he was allowed to join the 18-and-older Busy Beavers Woodcarving Club.

He's also been a regular at North Dakota Museum of Art workshops for children and teens.

"My grandpa has been associated with the museum for a long time, and my parents thought I would enjoy doing the art camps because I enjoy working with my hands," Talon said. "There have always been helpful and enjoyable people working there."

Grabowski, 96, is a major supporter of North Dakota Museum of Art. His spot on the museum's donor wall is decorated with small pieces of wood, a tiny saw blade and the words: "Knotty boy loves wood."

After all the museum had done for him, Talon wanted to support the museum, too, and his parents encouraged him to find his own way to help. So, he made the wooden bowl for the art auction from a burl, a dome-shaped growth on a tree trunk that a friend had found on his farm near Mayville, N.D.


First, you let the wood dry out, or season, Talon said, explaining the process of making the bowl.

"Wood is kind of like, if you imagine a bundle of straws in your hand, that's all wood is. So, when the water leaves the wood, it can shrink or change. The goal of letting it dry is having the moisture in the wood match the moisture of the environment it will be in."

He used a chain saw to cut around the burl, then found the center of the bowl on the top and bottom, and put it on a lathe. After it was finished, he rubbed it with linseed oil, which he likes because it's made from flax, a grain that's grown locally.

"I'm definitely not intimidated to try anything new," Talon said.

"But probably one of the best woodworking experiences I've had is we're building some log cabins on an island on Lake of the Woods."

It's been a great experience, he said, spending many summer hours with his parents working on the cabins. (He also makes bass plug lures that he sells to fishermen there.) And he has nearly finished -- with his grandfather's help -- the building of a desk made from cherry wood with ebony insets.

"It's definitely made me realize through education I can learn to do anything I can think of," he said.

And Talon always seems to be thinking.


Building a desk taught him that finished wood is expensive. He thought about all the downed trees out there and decided to learn how to mill his own wood, partly from a book about chain saw lumber-making that he spotted in the library at Red River High School, where he's a sophomore.

Another of his inspirations is Roy Underhill, a master craftsman at Colonial Williamsburg, who writes about traditional building and woodworking tools. Now, Talon is interested in making his own hand tools. In the past year, Talon has acquired and restored an old hand-powered drill press as well as an anvil and intends to build his own forge.

"I want to start blacksmithing this fall," he said.

Reach Tobin at (701) 780-1134; (800) 477-6572, ext. 134; or send e-mail to ptobin@gfherald.com .

Talon Stammen, 16, with the bowl he has on sale at the 19th annual North Dakota Museum of Art Gala Benefit Dinner and Silent Art Auction. Herald photo by John Stennes.

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