On May 3, 2016 Neil Scobie passed away. Over the course of Neil wrote many stories for Australian Wood Review covering a range of topics from projects to profiles to reviews of tools and woodworking exhibitions. He was a valued author and regular contributor to the magazine.
Neil trained as an Industrial Arts teacher in the 1970s and taught in NSW high schools for 20 years before taking the plunge and turning pro in 1993. He became known for his fine furniture and turned and carved sculptures that he made for private clients and galleries.
In memory of Neil Scobie, the article below was published in AWR#92, September, 2016.
My first ‘introduction’ to Neil Scobie was through his work. While setting up an exhibition of woodturning at the Royal Exhibition Building in 1989 for the second Working With Wood Show there was a coachwood platter I admired. It was large, maybe 420mm across, had simple but great lines and a wide rim. It wasn’t flimsy or fancy but it wasn’t heavy either. It showed off the wood to great effect. It ended up winning a prize. Since then I’ve always thought it’s possible to see a reflection of someone’s persona in the things they make.
Some years later Neil introduced himself to me in person at yet another wood show and said he would like to write for the magazine. Becoming acquainted with his low-key, confident and pleasant demeanour, it was instantly a case of why not?
Working with Neil was always straightforward. An upfront guy, Neil would say things outright, but always with perfect courtesy and consideration. We had many chuckles but I don’t recall Neil speaking badly of anyone, or complaining for that matter. And the reverse is true too, I’ve never heard anyone say anything bad about him.
Neil must have been a ferociously hard worker all his life. He taught at schools and then from his own workshop, all the while making furniture and turned and carved pieces for galleries, exhibitions and private commissions. All the while photographing and writing about many of the wonderful things he made and keeping several publishers well stocked with stories and features. No wonder Neil was always one to expedite processes with jigs, power tools and machines, unlike those who prefer the unplugged way.
Neil was literally known the world over for the demonstrations he gave at symposiums in the USA and Europe. To say he was a popular presenter is an understatement. With his easy-going personality, ability to explain things in simple terms, and above
all, his sheer talent for designing and making things, he always seemed to be going off to some event.
With so much going on Neil was not one to waste a minute. From what he told me, time spent waiting at airports while heading off to demonstration gigs was but an opportunity for writing stories and probably other things as well. Make the most of every moment, seemed to be the way he thought and worked.
It’s a rare individual who combines a great talent for design with widespread mastery of differing techniques. Growing up on a farm doubtless helped his universal practicality. Neil could turn, carve and join and embellish wood with consummate skill, and he could develop the creative possibilities of those techniques. He was an artist as well as a maker, and not only that he was able to sustain his practice through an equally diverse range of avenues. He sold his work privately and through galleries, and took on commissions. He earned income by sharing his technical and artistic skills with others, and enjoyed the fellowship gained from having ongoing students.
Sharing came easily to Neil and his artistic collaborations with his life partner Liz Scobie, a painter and textile artist were fruitful. By combining skills and artistry each took the other’s work to another level. There are not many couples that can successfully be life and also artistic partners.
It’s easy to spend kind words after someone has passed, but in the case of Neil Scobie all of the above is true. There are many people who will truly miss his influence and presence in their lives.
Linda Nathan, Wood Review Editor