David Dunn is known for two things in the local art community.
First, he has been turning wood into vases and Minnesota state bird houses for nearly 50 years.
Second, he has spent a lot of his free time working at, overseeing and promoting the SEMVA (Southeastern Minnesota Visual Arts) gallery in downtown Rochester. Since 1994, two years after SEMVA opened, Dunn has been helping out with most aspects of the gallery.
Dunn’s wood-turning career technically started when he made a bookcase as a middle school student in Rochester. Dunn’s hobby turned into a career when he received power tools from his father-in-law in the late 1960s.
Since then, along with SEMVA, Dunn has sold woodwork in Mantorville, Winona and Lanesboro. He said he has sold pieces to at least one resident in every state.
What attracted you to wood turning?
It allows me to use my imagination and skills. You need to have a mechanical aptitude, which helps because there are certain things you have to understand. Some guys get into turning who do not have a clue, and they never will. They can only do what they have seen people do in front of them. There are some guys who can never come up with an original thought. You have to have some imagination. You got to be able to see things, envision things.
Where do you find your wood, which your wife calls “roadkill?”
My backyard. Your backyard. I will drive around in my truck. We had a big tree in the backyard which our kids would play and swing on. One year, on Christmas, the tree came down, and when it did, the limb that they all swung on, I chopped up and made a vase for each (child).
Because you stopped working at SEMVA, people may think you have retired. Have you called it quits?
I’m going to keep wood-turning and sell my work somewhere. I still sell wooden tops at both hospital gift shops. I will get something in Mantorville. I’m still going.
What is your opinion of your fellow southeastern Minnesota artists?
There are some talented artists around us. The gallery (SEMVA) has been good to me and for me. I worked retail, so I knew a lot of the backroom stuff you have to take care of. The people in there, most of them, just for logistics standpoint, are from Rochester (and the) immediate area, plus Albert Lea, Owatonna and even by the (Mississippi) river. Zumbrota and Pine Island are both artsy towns and full of talented people. I would often see something I wanted to buy and take home.