Some years ago I accidentally discovered wood carving. I had purchased some power carving tools in case I needed them for some larger projects, and I was determined to learn how to use them.
Controlling the tool turned out not to be my problem. I quickly learned that while my sight was excellent, my powers of observation were poor; artistically I was practically blind. I could not carve what my mind could not see. I had to learn to see all over again, mostly with my hands.
I began to see details in familiar objects I had not seen before. In faces, I saw the relative dimensions of faces, the curves of spoons, the shadows and perspectives of objects, the depth of bowls. Without being blind, I still had not seen until I started looking more closely. I learned to trust my hands and feel of the wood.
Surprisingly, I developed a passion for carving faces. For fun, I liked the speed of carving bowls and spoons when I wasn't in the mood for the detail of faces.
Below, see a carousel of photographs of carvings of some of my favorite people.
Some of My Favorite People
Gurtis and Alida
Gurtis and Alida were neighbors and familar faces when I was growing up. Gurtis always said he was raised by the Indians. He knew all the Indian names for the wildflowers and other plants as well as their uses. Uneducated and illiterate, he was a skilled blacksmith and handyman. Alida was a gentle and sweet woman. They lived for years in a small cabin without electricity or running water. Later, they moved to an old farmhouse with water flowing flowing by gravity from a nearby spring. They took the electricity out and lived frugally. As Alida went to gather firewood on the back porch one frosty morning to cook breakfast, she was attacked by a rabid fox. As she held the mad creature by the neck, Gurtis shot it. Gurtis was quite a story teller; Alida cleaned houses and cared for the sick. Both were wonderful, giving people even though they had little.
Their images were cut from a block of Butternut Walnut wood found on my farm. The carving is finished in oil and wax.
Charlie Garner was a bass player for Del Reeves on the Grand Ole Opry. When he retired to his home in Hickman County, TN, he and his family stayed engaged in music. With an idea burning in his head, he convinced the local radio station to create a Saturday morning program where he would invite local and new music artists to come play. Setting up a little stage in a local business, Charlie and a few local musicians started playing on Saturdays. A man came and claimed to be a drummer, but there were no drums, so Charlie asked him to use cardboard boxes to display his talents. Soon the weekly event became popular, and the Chamber of Commerce built a stage in their facility for the program each week. Broadcast live by the radio station, local people and visitors filled the seating area with about 80 people each Saturday morning.
Sadly, Charlie developed cancer and passed away after a few years, but the Grinders Switch Hour continues each week.
Minnie Pearl was born and raised in Centerville, TN. Her family had prominent places and the community--and still do. She, Sarah Colley, attended Belmont College in Nashville but found her real calling as a comic performer after mimicing the character of a woman she met in South Carolina while touring with a dramatics company across the South. While performing at home in the upstairs theater, she was discovered by WSM radio and wound up as a member of the Grand Ole Opry and cast member of the television programs Hee Haw. She chose a little railroad switch just across the Duck River from her home in Centerville to create her ficticious hometown of Grinders Switch.
Ostein was my Dad's best friend. Married to my mother's sister, he was also my uncle. After he grew up in Hickman County, TN, he entered the Navy in WWII and returned home for a few years before becoming an aircraft mechanic for American Airlines and moving to Tulsa, OK. A man with a gregarious laugh, he was a joy to be around. When he retired and moved back to nearby Hohenwald, TN, he and my Dad spent countless hours riding their 4-wheelers on miles of woodland trails in search of elusive wildflowers. If they were not looking for wildflowers they might have been fishing or quail hunting.
One of my favorite people, Mee McCormick, is the inspiration for this carving. While it's not exactly a replica (she's prettier), it reminded me of her when I was working on it. Mee operated the Pinewood Kitchen until a recent flood destroyed a good portion of the ability of the Pinewood Farm to provide vegetable produce and meat for the restaurant. I credit Mee with saving my wife's life as both struggle with food allergies. As a trained chef, Mee developed recipes and produced two cookbooks showing how to create food for your health and nutrition.
Polly was my aunt, by marriage, and a good friend because her husband was a close friend and work associate. This is one of my older pieces when I was just learning how to create images of people. The carving is in cherry wood from a tree on her husband's farm. Hard, I had to carve it with a rotary tool, a technique I largely set aside only for hard woods.
It is finished in oil and wax.
After cutting a walnut tree on our farm, I took an odd shaped piece of Black Wanut and started cutting. I wanted to experiment with carving long, curly hair. This was my result--Venus. It is finished in oil and wax. It now hangs on my living room wall.
Mee McCormick was the chef at the recently closed Pinewood Market in Hickman County, TN. Mee, like my wife, had severe food allergies. In the face of a major health crisis, she responded with courage and determination to find her own solutions after doctors failed. Becoming a chef specializing in nutrition, she found her cure and published two cookbooks with her exceptional dishes--always delicious and healthy. A beautiful lady, inside and out, the mother of two beautiful daughters, and the wife of Lee McCormic, former musician, and founder of multiple drug rehabilitation centers, I created this carving and it fit her to a tee.
A scrap slab of Butternut Walnut yielded this sad looking image. Maybe it's because he's from the softwood of the tree--the other side of the tracks in wood-speak. He's finished in oil and wax to capture his downturned expression.
Best Bud is someone who hangs around wanting to be your best friend. Not sure what he offers, but he's always there. A companion to Lonesome Joe, he's from the same Butternut Walnut tree.
He's also finished in oil and wax.
I used to work in Information Technology where some of the new technolgy would make me butt my head against the wall for days until I figured it out. So, I have some compassion for this fellow who finally busted his head through this hard Mesquite board.
My 100 acre woods is largely high quality white oak trees, along with hickory and other hardwoods, that I treasure. This area of Tennessee was a highly productive hunting ground for several tribes who shared this area of abundant water and fertile forests. I can imagine this fellow hiding in the leaves of trees waiting for game.
He's cut from Butternut Walnut and finished in oil and wax. I woodburned the highlights in the leaves and his face and feathers.
A piece of a scrap Butternut board shaped like an arrowhead needed the image of a Native American on it.
Hoop on Forehead
Hoop on Forehead was an Apsaroke scout. The inspiration for this carving was a rather well-known portrait by Eward S. Curtis in 1908.
The wood is Butternut Walnut finished in oil and wax blackened with a torch and woodburning tool for highlights.
This is another view of the old man.
This is taken from Wikipedia:
Quanah Parker (Comanche kwana, "smell, odor") (c. 1845 – February 20, 1911) was a war leader of the Kwahadi ("Antelope") band of the Comanche Nation. He was likely born into the Nokoni ("Wanderers") band of Tabby-nocca and grown up among the Kwahadis, the son of Kwahadi Comanche chief Peta Nocona and Cynthia Ann Parker, an Anglo-American who had been kidnapped as a child and assimilated into the Nokoni tribe. Following the apprehension of several Kiowa chiefs in 1871, Quanah Parker emerged as a dominant figure in the Red River War, clashing repeatedly with Colonel Ranald S. Mackenzie. With European-Americans hunting American bison, the Comanches' primary sustenance, into near extinction, Quanah Parker eventually surrendered and peaceably led the Kwahadi to the reservation at Fort Sill, Oklahoma.
Quanah Parker was never elected chief by his people but was appointed by the federal government as principal chief of the entire Comanche Nation, and became a primary emissary of southwest indigenous Americans to the United States legislature. In civilian life, he gained wealth as a rancher, settling near Cache, Oklahoma. Though he encouraged Christianization of Comanche people, he also advocated the syncretic Native American Church alternative, and passionately fought for the legal use of peyote in the movement's religious practices. He was elected deputy sheriff of Lawton in 1902. After his death in 1911, the leadership title of Chief was replaced with Chairman; Quanah Parker is thereby described as the "Last Chief of the Comanche," a term also applied to Horseback.
Civil War Soldier
I found a photograph of a the Park Ranger at Shiloh National Military Park posing as a Civil War soldier. I had a slab of Black Locust that needed to be shaped into something useful. Hard as nails, I had to grind it with a rotary tool into the image of this soldier.
I don't normally paint my carvings, but I mixed my oil paints to achieve the look I wanted.
Charlie, Muskrat Hunter
I was on vacation visiting my parents before I moved back to the farm. As I worked on carving something that resembled a photograph of a Muskrat Hunter, my Dad named him Charlie. He was carved from a block of Black Walnut. The background is a portion of an old door from a old house on the farm.
The Dark Side of the Moon
For years, we watched honeybees swarm around an opening in a walnut tree near my parents' house. Then, one day they left seemingly with no reason. A little later, the tree fell. We cut it up--no sign of any bees. Maybe they knew disaster was coming their way. I cut some rings from the hollow portion with an eye toward making an unusual carving.
I almost gave up on the wood. Most wood carving is done with carving strokes following the grain of the wood. In this instance, nearly all cuts required me to cut across the very hard grain. I had to use my dreaded power tools to sculpt the basic shape. That being done, I finished with small hand tools, and even then, I had to use a mallet to slice through the hard wood before sanding a smooth surface. I finished the carving with a wax/oil finish. It's about 14 inches tall.