Volcano Art Center Featured Artists

Ron Garten

Ron Garten, an orphan since he was 12 and on his own at 14, worked his way through high school on the vegetable farms of Selinus Valley, California. A gifted athlete, he got a scholar-ship to junior college in Salinas and transferred to the University of Nevada, graduating with a geology degree and a commission as a 2nd lieutenant in the Marine Corps. In 1960, he was sent to Vietnam where he became a company commander of an infantry battalion. For the next 13 year, he was assigned to Virginia, Okinawa, Michigan, California, and France, coming to Hawai‘i first in 1970. He and his wife Sylvia returned to Hawai‘i for good in 1984, buying 7+ acres overlooking the Hamakua coast and building their “Cloud Nine” house which boasts 2,000 board feet of solid koa cabinetry. Ron has carried the discipline he learned in the Corps over to his carpentry. Everything has to be perfect, or it will not leave his shop. Ron uses koa because no other wood, in his opinion, can compete with it. His stock is already about 20% moisture free after resting on the mountain slopes. Over a period of years, he circulates it from under his house to a sticker shed and then into a homemade kiln in his workshop until it has only about 8% moisture, and then he lets it cure. Ron tends to let the wood itself tell him what it wants to become. You could say that instead of working on wood, he works with it. A solid koa panel created in his shop will always be beautiful in Hawai‘i, but it might have a problem in a mainland home with central heating. For this reason, Ron painstakingly creates hardwood plywood, using koa’s most exquisite grain patterns as the visible layer. Not only is this an economical use of koa, his veneer gluing makes his pieces exceptionally stable in a wide variety of environments, from humid Florida to wood-heated Oregon.