Successful House Builder Turned Himself Into a Deconstructionist

Holland Van Gores has worked with wood his entire life, building everything from skateboards as a kid to custom houses in the Virgin Islands. A milestone birthday and a chainsaw — not simultaneously — changed everything.

“I’m so happy this happened,” says Holland Van Gores, who started exploring art at age 50.
Portrait by Karin Strickland

“Construction has always been my livelihood,” says the California native from his studio in Pisgah Forest, near Brevard. In his early twenties, he went to the Virgin Islands to build a restaurant. “A three-month job with sailing and diving benefits ended up being a 34-year life change.” During that time, he married, started a construction business and a family, and had a big birthday.

Photo by Karin Strickland

“My mother was a very gifted painter and had her own gallery. When I turned 50, I wanted to pursue that, but I wasn’t very good at painting. I went to an art show on St. Thomas and met a gentleman who made little wood boxes. Just in the time we were talking, he sold two. I thought, ‘I could do that,’ so I tapped into my woodworking experience. Once I started turning wood, I saw how quickly and simply I could make something like a bowl. I loved being in my little shop and loved working with wood.”

The artist makes his shapes first, then considers the “skin,” wondering, “What color does this [vessel] want to be?”
Photo by Karin Strickland

But after 12 years, the love affair grew stale. “When our daughters were ready for high school in 2012, we left the Virgin Islands and moved to Brevard,” he says. “It’s a beautiful place that embraces art, music, and nature. I continued doing construction and wood turning, but the more symposiums I went to in the area, the more I realized that my work just blended in with 999 of 1,000 woodturners.”

Photo by Karin Strickland

So he took a piece he had turned with the intent of making a vase — and instead he split it in half with a chainsaw. “I hollowed it out, dried it, glued it back together, textured and painted it.” Then he took it to a monthly gathering of Carolina woodworkers. “There were beautiful bowls and platters, and there was my strange lime-green piece. It got so much attention it sent me in the direction of finding my own voice and running with it.”

Photo by Karin Strickland

The process begins with turning a log — primarily found maple — which he compares to tuning an instrument. “It can be a little sharp or a little flat, but once I get it right, like a tuned guitar I can feel the vibration.”

He has fine-tuned his artistry, but the steps remain the same: turn, halve, hollow, dry, re-assemble the halves, carve with hand tools, paint, then sand. “I make the shape and then I think, ‘What would this shape like to have for skin?’ ‘What color would this skin want to be?’”

Photo by Karin Strickland

Two years ago, he became a member of the prestigious Southern Highland Craft Guild. “I always considered my mother and sister the artists, and never thought I could be like them. It is still a surprise to me to be able to create these pieces that people like and admire. 

“I didn’t expect this to happen, but I’m so happy it did.”

Holland Van Gores, Pisgah Forest. The artist sells his work at The Gallery at Flat Rock (2702-A Greenville Hwy., Flat Rock, galleryflatrock.com) and at Number 7 Arts (12 East Main St., Brevard, number7arts.org). He’ll participate in the Craft Fair of the Southern Highlands in Asheville, running Thursday, July 18 through Sunday, July 21 at the US Cellular Center (southernhighlandguild.org). For more information, see hollandwoodart.com.

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