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By Tom Durkin
Carving out quite a niche
Mike Snegg’s wooden bowls make big impact
Mike Snegg of Nevada City likes Norfolk Island pine wood so much he had 10 tons of it shipped in from Kauai.

Snegg uses the organic symmetry of where the branches enter the tree to form a “natural edge” for bowls he creates out of the tree’s trunks.
It’s not easy and very few wood-turners can do it, he said.

But done right, this wood can be lathed into wooden vessels as exquisite and unique as a snowflake. And they don’t melt.

“Every bowl is a piece of sculpture,” said LeeAnn Brook, who owns the LeeAnn Brook Fine Art Gallery at 300 Spring St. in Nevada City.

Snegg is a permanent featured artist in her gallery, where his bowls sell for anywhere from $150 to $1,500, Brook said.

Selling his art, however, is not Snegg’s priority. “I find it just as rewarding to give them to credible nonprofits for fundraisers,” he said.
He has donated bowls for silent auction events to such organizations as the Bear Yuba Land Trust, South Yuba River Citizens League (SYRCL), the Nevada County branch of the American Association of University Women (AAUW), two schools in Reno—and The Carter Center, a nonprofit, non-governmental organization (NGO) created by former President Jimmy Carter.

“He’s a real dude,” Snegg said of Carter. “We’ve sat and talked for hours about sanding and carving. He’s a master woodworker.”

By a series of karmic coincidences, Snegg’s son, Marc, a private equity investor, got involved with a company in Kenya. The Kenyans wanted to connect with The Carter Center, which “wages peace, fights disease and builds hope,” according to its website.

Former President Carter invited Marc Snegg to a fundraiser at The Center. “The president said, ‘Why don’t you bring your father too and ask him to bring one of his bowls,’ “ Snegg recalled.

“I gave him an Olive Bowl for Peace,” Snegg said.

Every year now, the former president signs Snegg’s bowls, and they sell in The Carter Center’s annual fundraiser auction for as much as $20,000.

In addition to giving away his art to charitable causes, Snegg likes to show off his work in museum-quality installations. His latest endeavor is a collection of Norfolk pine bowls designed to be displayed against a simple but dramatic backdrop of Holocaust-era memorabilia.

In collaboration with son Marc, also a multimedia artist, the pictures of the artifacts are printed in Cyanotype, a technique normally used for blueprints. This technique creates “eerie, ghost-like images,” Snegg said.
“My mother was the only member of her family to survive the Holocaust,” Snegg explained.

“These bowls are a tribute to our family’s story, and our commitment to transforming pain into beauty through the power of art and craft,” Snegg wrote in his submission to the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C.

This isn’t the first time Snegg has tried to qualify for an exhibition at the Smithsonian. “The competition is fierce,” he admitted. “It’s a long shot.”
Snegg has now turned to his next art installation intended for the Wild & Scenic Art Show in January.

The theme for this exhibition will be Climate Change, Snegg said. The installation will feature bowls presented on stumps of orange trees from San Diego that died from lack of rain.

Although he retired from Grass Roots Realty Company, which owned four lucrative Coldwell-Banker franchises, Snegg still has a hand in the “family business,” Snegg & Snegg L.P., that he and his father started.

One of Snegg & Snegg’s business ventures is to own and rent industrial buildings and storage facilities, like the buildings he owns in the industrial park next to the Nevada City airport. That’s where he’s stored all the Norfolk pine.

It’s also where John Volz of Volz Bros. Automotive leases his repair shop from Snegg.

Snegg helped Volz buy his first house in Nevada County in 1979 and became his landlord in 1984 when he bought the building that houses the auto shop, Volz said.

“We’ve been each other’s clients for years,” Volz said. “Mike is a great guy.”

Moreover, Snegg and Volz have partnered in charity work over the years.

For instance, Volz said that Snegg asked his friend Graham Nash to sign a guitar for Volz that Volz then donated to SYRCL for an auction.

Volz, Snegg and Brook have partnered in community service in many ways.

When Snegg was still a real estate executive and Brook was still a graphic designer, Snegg regularly bought full-page ads in newspapers—and every third full-page ad Brook designed was dedicated to promoting the work of local nonprofits.

“He has always been so generous with his time and business sense—and creativity,” Brook concluded.

To see examples of Snegg’s work with all kinds of wood and to watch a video of how he makes a bowl, visit mikesneggbowls.com.

Full disclosure: Tom Durkin edited the final copy for Snegg’s application to the Smithsonian. Snegg, however, did not read this article before publication. Durkin can be contacted at tdurkin@vfr.net or www.tomdurkin-writer.net.
Photo by Erin Pardini
Translucent and unique as a snowflake, this natural-edge wooden bowl is a set piece in Mike Snegg’s art installation honoring his family’s heritage.
Photo by Erin Pardini
These five wooden bowls and the images that accompany them are a tribute to Mike Snegg’s ancestors who did not survive the Holocaust.
Photo by Erin Pardini
After 10 years, Mike Snegg is able to create a bowl in just a few hours of physically demanding and dangerous work.