This summer, the Star is profiling some of the artists who call Tucson home. This week: Lynne Yamaguchi.

Lynne Yamaguchi retreated from words and found wood. Carefully crafted vessels, bowls and vases have flowed from her hands since she left publishing in 2003.

Although Yamaguchi enjoyed artistic endeavors before switching careers, she didn't know anything about turning wood when she quit her job. What she did know was that she'd been under constant stress.

"Asking myself what would make me happy was transformative, and I acted on the answer with astonishingly bold certainty," she said.

Sensory wonders

Yamaguchi, 54, first noticed woodwork as a child, when her mother brought souvenirs back from Oberammergau, a town in Bavaria, Germany, well-known for woodcarving.

She remembers turning the pieces over and over in her hands. She marveled at the smoothness, and the natural colors and patterns. Today, a vase of light wood, discolored from so much handling, from that visit sits in her office.

People who collect Yamaguchi's work experience similar sensory wonders.

"Lynne's pieces evoke serenity and are as much about touch as sight. You can't hold a piece of her wood without feeling a sense of calm," said Laurie Dean, who owns several Yamaguchi pieces.

Dean said some look like windblown sand or waves. Others glow, she said, especially in sunlight.

Yamaguchi's workshop is full of wood of many shapes and sizes, pieces collected over time. Mesquite. Arizona ash. She tells her friends to call when they see a tree has fallen.

"I spend a lot of time looking at wood before I turn it. I am really familiar with all the wood I have," she said.

"My poetry"

Since her first wood-turning class in January 2003, she has realized parallels between her two careers. Editing well requires taking away, she said, until only what is essential is left.

"I feel like it's very much what I'm doing with the wood," she said. "It's become my poetry. For me, it's saying the most with the least."

Working with wood is also humbling, she said. She strives for perfection, but the wood often resists.

"I have learned to embrace and respond to whatever the material presents - spectacular grain or cracks and beetle holes or, most often, a combination of unexpected figure and flaws - and to find perfection in the dance of that embrace and response," she said.

"Working with wood helps me to remember and appreciate the beauty of all this flawed world, especially us flawed humans."

Art collector Larry N. Deutsch marvels at Yamaguchi's ability to look at a piece of wood and see clearly what will best bring out its natural beauty.

"I really like the fact that Lynne, without as much formal training as most artists have, has been able to be very creative and innovative," said Deutsch, 70.

"She has, either through experience or natural talent, the ability to look at a piece of wood and easily see what she can and can't do with that piece of wood."

Deutsch, an interior designer with Tucson's Deutsch/Parker Design Ltd., has purchased pieces for himself and his daughters. He has also commissioned Yamaguchi to do work for his clients.

Lew Appelbaum first came across Yamaguchi's work at a gallery in Scottsdale. He and his wife, Regina Appelbaum, own 18 Yamaguchi pieces.

"Every time I saw her work, it was something that I couldn't resist buying, the way she turns it and the fineness of what she does," said Appelbaum, 72, who spends summers in Pennsylvania. "Her work is really exquisite."


Yamaguchi credits her friendships with other artists for her inspiration.

About a month after her first class, she visited Desert Woodcrafters, a local woodworking club. There, she met Art Zirnheld, who became her mentor.

"His friendship and his belief in my skills has really helped sustain me," she said. "I wouldn't have accomplished what I have without him."

Yamaguchi - who grew up moving from place to place as an Air Force daughter - said she comes from a family of female artists. Her grandmother was a painter, her mother a dancer, and her sister is a painter and glass artist.

Yamaguchi has also been influenced by her time in Japan, where she lived in her late twenties. While there, she taught English, edited translated documents and studied shiatsu, acupuncture and pottery. She also spent time getting to know her extended family.

"I invest every piece with the best spirit I can bring to it, with love for the material and the process and with the intent of adding beauty and spirit to the lives of everyone who experiences the work," she said.

"I'm really just doing what I love and putting as much as I can of that love into the outcome."

The details

• Online: Find Yamaguchi's works at

• Featured locally: Flux Gallery, Plaza Palomino, 2960 N. Swan Road, Suite 136.

• Prices: From $40 to $1,800.

• To make an appointment: email Yamaguchi at

"I'm really just doing what I love and putting as much as I can of that love into the outcome."

Lynne Yamaguchi

Contact reporter Patty Machelor at 806-7754 or