Turning comes alive for Rebecca DeGroot
Rebecca DeGroot Steep and Cauldron

“Steep and Cauldron” by Rebecca DeGroot captured the top prize in the Young Wood Pro contest.

Having a conversation with Rebecca DeGroot is as animated as her award-winning woodturnings. Not just simple bowls and vessels, the products of her lathe work sprout legs and tendrils to take on a whimsical life of their own, capturing your imagination.

That creativity also won over the hearts of the online public and the panel of judges in the 2023 Young Wood Pro competition. They awarded 33-year-old DeGroot from Spring, Texas, with first prize for her “Steep and Cauldron,” a pair of turnings that look like teapots with finely sculpted legs.

Rebecca DeGroot three sprouts turning
DeGroot says she is inspired by nature, and likes to bring her sculptures to life.

This year’s contest was sponsored by Grizzly Industrial, so in addition to the $500 cash prize, DeGroot was awarded a new special 40th anniversary edition machine. She chose the cabinet saw, which she hopes will help expand her woodworking creations beyond just turnings into more furniture-like creations.

Rebecca DeGroot
Rebecca DeGroot graduated from the Kendall College of Art and Design with two Bachelor of Fine Arts degrees.

But don’t expect her to abandon turnings or sculptural work. Turning is how she got started in woodworking at a very early age.

“My dad was a woodworker,” she recalls. “He did construction and would come home and go right to the shop.” She followed him and started working in the shop, too. At just 5 years-old, she remembers climbing up on a 5-gallon-bucket to reach the lathe so she could turn honey dippers, scoops, basic spindles, and the like.

Young Wood Pro-Grizzly logo

Although she has a full shop of conventional machines such as a band saw, miter saw, planer, and table saw, the lathe takes center stage.

“I like the simplicity, the instant gratification,” she says. “You can have a finished project in an hour or two.”
Of course, the elaborate works of art DeGroot creates take more than just one session at the lathe to complete. She cuts pieces on the bandsaw, does carving, and additional hollow turning, then joins the pieces to the main turned body. She also does resin work and likes to dye some of the shaped pieces.

“I got used to dying to bring out the form rather than the distracting grain,” she says. “I don’t have the funds to buy all the dark hardwoods, so I use dye.”

Rebecca DeGroot jellyfish sculpture with sketch
This jellyfish sculpture took on its form from a simple sketch.

DeGroot likes taking on challenges. She graduated from the Kendall College of Art and Design in Grand Rapids, Michigan, with two Bachelor of Fine Arts degrees, one in art education for grades kindergarten through 12, and the other degree in sculpture and functional art. While finishing up her last year at Kendall, she was working on a senior project that she kept making ever more challenging.

Because there weren’t enough students for a full Level 4 Functional Art class, she was put in with Level 1 students. She was looking for ways to challenge herself. Her teacher assigned the class to do something with a tambour. She decided to figure out a way to do it on the lathe.

“I sketched this sort of alien cheeseburger. It had slats around, spikes, and a spikey lid,” she said. “It was the first piece I thought of putting legs on.”

She said it took four weeks to complete. All through the process she kept going to the teacher with ideas to expand the project. He told her how she could do that but warned her she really didn’t have time.

“I took everything he told me not to do and did it anyway,” she said. The tambour part had 80 sections. But she ran out of time, so when it came to final sanding, she stopped at 60 grit for some of the legs and put finish on the rough surface anyway, calling it a more skin-like texture in her presentation. Afterward, the teacher took her aside and said, “You are going to finish those legs properly, aren’t you?”

Trio of Rebecca DeGroot sculptures
DeGroot has been fascinated by spider legs, and it shows in many of her turnings.

DeGroot gets some of her inspiration from animals and the world around her.

“I’m inspired by all the things around us, a texture I see walking down the street,” she says. “I don’t like killing spiders. I would be that creepy little kid who would put a wolf spider in a jar and watch it. It would be in a state of almost action, tension. I was always intrigued by the body parts and joints.”

DeGroot says her biggest challenge as a young professional woodworker is “finding enough time to be in the shop.” In addition to her woodwork, she teaches high school art and works as a tatoo artist. She’s leaving the high school teaching behind soon to devote more time to woodworking.

Rebecca DeGroot sprout in vase
A sculptural turning seems to sprout from its resin and wood vase after being crafted by Rebecca DeGroot.

She’s also challenged by finding good outlets to sell and promote her unusual work. She has a store on Etsy (https://www.etsy.com/shop/RebeccaDeGrootStudio) where she currently lists mostly smaller wood and resin projects such as jewelry and earrings. She sells her more sculptural work through an online gallery called Wood Symphony (https://www.woodsymphony.com/) operated by Larisa Safaryan. The gallery is the successor to the famous del Mano Gallery that specialized in fine wood turnings.

Some of her tattooing experience finds its way into her woodwork as she does some pyrography, using the wood burning technique to create details such as the gills on a mushroom-like piece.

The edgy world of tatoos also reflects some of her edgier work. In 2020, she participated in a show called “Furniture as Danger.”

“I filled a bowl with spikes on the inside,” she said. “I like to take a domestic object and take it over with animalistic qualities. I like to take the regular, everyday things and give it some life.”


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About the author
William Sampson

William Sampson is a lifelong woodworker, and he has been an advocate for small-scale entrepreneurs and lean manufacturing since the 1980s. He was the editor of Fine Woodworking magazine in the early 1990s and founded WoodshopBusiness magazine, which he eventually sold and merged with CabinetMaker magazine. He helped found the Cabinet Makers Association in 1998 and was its first executive director. Today, as editorial director of Woodworking Network and FDMC magazine he has more than 20 years experience covering the professional woodworking industry. His popular "In the Shop" tool reviews and videos appear monthly in FDMC.