After retiring as an English teacher, I settled down to sculpt full time. By then, after more than a dozen years of dabbling part time, I had learned why sculpting was so absorbing. During my apprenticeship I had learned first to clear away material that was rotted and diseased. Then with the wood's integrity intact, I learned to recognize the flow of movement and the overall balance of the piece. This became the beginnings of what I felt was recognizing the spirit of the wood - that which brought it to life. Beside recognizing this spirit, I also I learned that a piece of wood, however insignificant, has a beauty unique to that piece, and that bringing out that beauty was my function as a sculptor. As this spirit revealed itself with each new project, I saw that carving was a constant discovery of how to weigh form and line and space to bring it out. To bring out that beauty of the wood as an expression of its spirit is always a challenge, and one the success of which my wood projects depend.
One of those early pieces as a part-time sculptor took best of show in a local exhibit near the college where I worked. Another piece was selected for exhibition at the Modern Art Museum in Palm Springs. But since I had no real need for income, selling my carvings was not critical. I also began to feel that I was entering competitions for recognition, for success, and somehow that didn't sit right with me. So I continued sculpting, keeping most and giving some to friends and relatives.
Then things changed. On a trip to Myanmar also known as Burma, I spoke with a wood carver who lived on the fringes of a clear-cut forest. He offered me a block of exotic and extremely hard wood, and thanking him for it, I told him that I preferred working with root wood because of the unusual configurations. He smiled at me and my interpreter and, sweeping his hand over the replanted fields of pineapples said, "The next time you come, I'll give you all the root wood you want!"
It struck me afterward that there must be an enormous supply of stumps of rare wood out there in the pineapple fields and replanted rubber plantations. And not only there and in other areas of Myanmar but all over the world where forests have been in most cases clear cut. If somehow those rare and beautiful stumps could be dug up and reworked, they could be sold to provide very much needed income for foresters, carvers, and others who had made their living in the now denuded forests.
These thoughts were very much alive while I was traveling through a small town in southwest China not far from the Laotian border. There in a small art shop, I discovered small rosewood stumps in the back room. They had been painted over with a protective coating, and parts were bruised or damaged. I bought three and had them shipped, along with personal belongings, to my home here in California. My plan was to learn to fashion these rosewood stumps into coffee tables or other practical pieces, and find a market for them. They would be functional art pieces of rare and exotic woods that - for the wood alone, I thought - would be valuable.
But there was another consideration perhaps more valuable than making a living for local crafts people. In the process of creation, These refashioned stumps would become touchstones of cultures and people. In the process of bringing out the beauty of the wood , the carver learned to connect his or her own depth of spirit with that of the wood. Then carver, wood, and the project itself became an expression which others could see and feel and touch, much as some native art still does.
Of the three stumps, two have been fashioned into glass topped tables. I am working on the third which is posing many more challenges. I am hoping that by joining ISC, I can begin the next somewhat scary process of finding a market for these functional art pieces.
I plan to use the proceeds from selling these tables to return to SE Asia where I'll be making contact with local wood carvers and tree experts for more information. The man from whom I bought the Dalbergia (rosewood) tree stumps said they came from Laos which meant they could be D. chinchinensis, or D. oliveri, or D. cultrata, or another sub-species, all of which grow in the Myanmar-Thailand-Laos, Cambodia-Viet Nam area. I was told that it was impossible to identify the species. This was corroborated by an expert on line whom I contacted and who was, coincidentally, a graduate of FPL.