The Dynamic Wildlife of Dmitry Gorodetsky: An Interview

(Dmitry’s responses translated from Russian by Elena Nikolaenko)

Dmitry Gorodetsky at work.

Dmitry Gorodetsky at work.

1. Tell me a little about yourself: Where did you grow up? Where do you live now and what is it like? What kind of work or interests do you have outside of carving? I was born and currently live in Bryansk, quite a big town in Central Russia not far from Moscow. A town with quite a long and rich historical heritage, much of which is being restored now. Arts and crafts are becoming more popular nowadays in Russia, but not that much yet and people do not treat them seriously. They do not treat the profession of an artist seriously and that is why the cultural marketplace is not so well developed and artists need to struggle to develop their art and to survive. This of course influences the whole situation about arts in Russia. In spite of this, carving is both my profession and my hobby; I do not have any other jobs. My main interest outside of carving? Mountain biking!

Wheels up, Dmitry Gorodetsky takes flight on his mountain bike!

Wheels up, Dmitry Gorodetsky takes flight on his mountain bike!

2. How did you become interested in art? Do you have any formal or informal art training or apprenticeships? Who are your mentors or teachers and what do you appreciate about their work? What attracted you to the idea of making sculpture? As a child I liked to draw and paint; sciences were of little interest for me at school. I developed an interest in carving as a boy watching on of my father’s colleagues carve a wooden figure of a sea animal. After that I tried my hand at it too. I started carving seriously at the Art Institute, Bryansk, Russia, from which I graduated with the qualifications of a Master-Artist of Applied Art and Folk Crafts (1998). I was lucky to have a kind of apprenticeship outside classroom with a local wood carver, Orlov Igor, who taught me many practical and basic things and in whose workshop I spent many hours. I currently have a good advisor and friend, one of the former professors from the Art Institute, Alexander Bodyakov. He is retired and teaches no more, but carves commissions for the Church. I find his deep knowledge of the arts helps me a lot. I started by carving wood and only after that, bone. The latter attracts me more as it allows greater freedom of treatment of the material. I am attracted to sculpture because it is the most complex, difficult and all-embracing of the arts: you need to know anatomy, the movements typical of this or that animal, the texture and qualities of the materials used, the instruments needed to carve each different material, etc. The impression produced by sculpture is great and many-sided.

'Wild Boar and Laika - 1' by Dmitry Gorodetsky (carved and stained moose antler and wood)

‘Wild Boar and Laika – 1’ by Dmitry Gorodetsky (carved and stained moose antler and wood)

'Martin and Laika' by Dmitry Gorodetsky (carved and stained moose antler and wood)

‘Martin and Laika’ by Dmitry Gorodetsky (carved and stained moose antler and wood)

3. How did you become interested in antler as a carving medium? Do you have specific training or mentoring for antler carving? You sometimes combine antler with wood, do you carve other materials as well? I started carving moose antlers after graduating from the Art Institute. I was in search of the materials with which I would mostly like to work  (I even had some experience working as a painter  for several months with the designer’s studio “Atelier Benoni”, Prague, the Czech Republic in 2005) and one day I met a taxidermist, here in Bryansk, who simply asked me, “Why not try carving antlers?” I agreed and so he commissioned my first antler carving. Though I worked hard at it, the carving was a failure, in my opinion! I found working with perspective on the moose antler and understanding the anatomy of dogs and wolves was quite difficult (see images 1,2). We did not have any selective courses on carving antler, bone or the like at the Art Institute, so I learned it on my own by consulting both local carvers, who had experience carving bone, and people in specialized on-line forums. Also, I read books on the subject and experimented on my own. In addition to antler and wood, I also carve mammoth, walrus and sperm-whale tusks, ivory and rhino-horn. I prefer carving mammoth tusk, as it allows me to create minute details and looks quite beautiful with its delicate texture and colour.

Dmitry Gorodetsky in his workshop.

Dmitry Gorodetsky in his workshop.

4. Can you tell me about your studio set up and the tools you use? Where do you get your material (antler, ivory, etc.)?  My studio is just two medium-sized rooms, one is equipped with a long table, a big Metabo saw, a couple of Dremel and Micro NX tools, some chisels.  This is where I work. In the other room, I store antlers and other materials and also keep a high stand to make the preliminary models of my sculpture from modeling clay (plasticine). I buy antlers mostly from people who live in the country and find shed antlers in forests (they are plentiful in the northern, Karelia region). They are shipped to me by post. In case of expensive materials, like mammoth tusk, they are usually provided by the person who commissions the work.

'Bear in a Village' by Dmitry Gorodetsky (carved and stained moose antler)

‘Bear in a Village’ by Dmitry Gorodetsky (carved and stained moose antler)

'Bear in Blossoms' by Dmitry Gorodetsky (carved deer antler - 5cm x 8cm)

‘Bear in Blossoms’ by Dmitry Gorodetsky (carved deer antler – 5cm x 8cm)

'A Sudden Encounter' by Dmitry Gorodetsky (carved and stained moose antler and wood - 23cm x 45cm)

‘A Sudden Encounter’ by Dmitry Gorodetsky (carved and stained moose antler and wood – 23cm x 45cm)

5. What kind of animals do you carve and what meaning do they have for you? Do you carve other subjects as well? What are you working on now?  As a wildlife carver, I carve scenes from forest life. I also carve scenes from hunting life too. I have a lot of experience carving dogs, wolves, moose, bears, wild boars, and deer. (see images 3-7a,b)

7. 'Wild Boar and Laika - 2' by Dmitry Gorodetsky (carved and stained moose antler and wood - 45cm x 25cm)

7a. ‘Wild Boar and Laika – 2’ by Dmitry Gorodetsky (carved and stained moose antler and wood – 45cm x 25cm)

7b. 'Borzois and the Fox' by Dmitry Gorodetsky (carved and stained moose antler and wood) 

7b. ‘Borzois and the Fox’ by Dmitry Gorodetsky (carved and stained moose antler and wood)

The selection of the animals I carve is dictated by my location I think; these ones are typical of Russian forests. Since childhood, I have seen pictures of them in books, wildlife documentaries, etc. However, dogs and wolves are my favourites. I have always had dogs in the house, so it helps me in my work. I know their behaviour, anatomy and movement and can “ask” my dog to be my “subject” for a couple of minutes: turning his head this way or that, moving his legs to see how the joints work, etc. I have often carved the Russian hunting breed of ‘laikas’  (the name literally means ‘barker’ – images 1,2 and 7aand have just finished working on a carving of the ‘borzois’ (a Russian wolfhound, whose name literally means ‘fast’ – image 7b) , also a famous hunting breed in Russia. The two breeds have completely different physical characteristics and ways in which they move.

Dmitry Gorodetsky and his dog.

Dmitry Gorodetsky and his dog.

Wolves are also canines and the fact that they are wild animals, unspoilt by civilization, I find very attractive. In addition, I find the knowledge about this animal fascinating: the way they live and behave. People have always thought about them as cruel, wicked and blood-thirsty predators, but few really know how amazing the way of life is within a wolf pack. (see images 8-11)

8. 'The Three Howling Wolves' by Dmitry Gorodetsky (carved and stained moose antler - 42cm x 23cm)

8. ‘The Three Howling Wolves’ by Dmitry Gorodetsky (carved and stained moose antler – 42cm x 23cm)

9. 'Wolf Fight' by Dmitry Gorodetsky (carved and stained moose antler and wood)

9. ‘Wolf Fight’ by Dmitry Gorodetsky (carved and stained moose antler and wood)

10. 'Howling Wolf' by Dmitry Gorodetsky (carved deer antler - 7cm x 4.5cm)

10. ‘Howling Wolf’ by Dmitry Gorodetsky (carved deer antler – 7cm x 4.5cm)

11. 'Wolf and Cub,' by Dmitry Gorodetsky (mammoth tusk - 8cm x 16cm)

11. ‘Wolf and Cub,’ by Dmitry Gorodetsky (mammoth tusk – 8cm x 16cm)

In terms of other subjects, I had a commission carving Chinese vases once and found it to my taste. The subject matter was very peaceful and calming – lotus flowers and other plants, birds, crabs. I also like carving Orthodox scenes, used for decorating the mitra (religious objects). To carve these seriously, one should be imbued with a believing spirit and do it for the true Church and its people,  not just because religious themes are popular and can earn you a lot of money. (see images 12-14)

14. 'The Savior' by Dmitry Gorodetsky (carved mammoth tusk - 4.5cm x 6cm)

14. ‘The Savior’ by Dmitry Gorodetsky (carved mammoth tusk – 4.5cm x 6cm)

13. 'John the Baptist' by Dmitry Gorodetsky (carved mammoth tusk - 4.5cm x 6cm)

13. ‘John the Baptist’ by Dmitry Gorodetsky (carved mammoth tusk – 4.5cm x 6cm)

12. 'Virgin Mary' by Dmitry Gorodetsky (carved mammoth tusk - 4.5cm x 6cm)

12. ‘Virgin Mary’ by Dmitry Gorodetsky (carved mammoth tusk – 4.5cm x 6cm)

Right now I am working on both a new moose antler carving and carving a large wolf pack on a good-sized mammoth tusk (70 cm long). It is proving quite a challenge, since the subject is rather complicated – but the material is worth it!

Dmitry Gorodetsky's mammoth tusk carving, in progress.

Dmitry Gorodetsky’s mammoth tusk carving, in progress.

6. How do you go about creating a sculpture? How do you decide when you’ll make a carving in the antler alone or combine it with a wood element? Tell me about your carving process: planning, stages, tool/carving techniques (favourites tools?). How do you finish the sculpture: sanding, stain, varnish, mounting?

All starts with an idea. I have a moose antler (or any other material) before my eyes and the antler “prompts” the subject I’ll carve by the antler’s form, curved lines, colour and texture. Then as soon as I see the composition I make sketches on paper, playing with animal’s movements, body positions, and the arrangement of the animals on the antler. It is difficult to say HOW I decide to carve an antler with a wood sculpture or without it. I think it depends on the way I see the scene on the antler; I feel at once, “Oh, yes, this spot is perfect for a wooden figure, which will go very well with the animals made in relief”. Something of the sort.

Phase 1 - The moose antler background is roughed out. (Dmitry Gorodetsky mixed media moose antler sculpture, in progress)

Phase 1 – The moose antler background is roughed out. (Dmitry Gorodetsky mixed media moose antler sculpture, in progress)

The carving itself takes quite a lot of time; I pay a lot of attention to details and forms. It can’t be finished in one day. I put the work aside for a time in order to gain a fresh perspective on the carving. Looking at it later, with a fresh eye and under different light, I am able to bring it to the finished stage.

Phase 2 - The figures are modelled in plastercine and fitted to the moose antler background, prior to being carved in wood. (Dmitry Gorodetsky mixed media moose antler sculpture, in progress)

Phase 2 – The figures are modelled in plastercine and fitted to the moose antler background, prior to being carved in wood. (Dmitry Gorodetsky mixed media moose antler sculpture, in progress)

I use different techniques working at a moose antler, even several different ones can be applied on one moose antler in combination. Among them are: relief carving, cut carving, using a burning tool, staining, adding extra wooden sculptures. Each has its peculiarities and nuances: Cut carving makes the work airy and light and exquisite in case you find a good wide moose antler and good composition. Relief carving is hard work, as a relief should look natural whatever angle you look at it, whatever the light is, etc. You really need to know about bass-relief and high relief.

Phase 3 - The first figure, a laika, is roughed out in wood and further detail of trees and bushes are added to the moose antler background. (Dmitry Gorodetsky mixed media moose antler sculpture, in progress)

Phase 3 – The first figure, a laika, is roughed out in wood and further detail of trees and bushes are added to the moose antler background. (Dmitry Gorodetsky mixed media moose antler sculpture, in progress)

Phase 4 - The two laikas are refined and the wild boar is roughed out in wood. Further detail of trees and bushes are added to the moose antler background. (Dmitry Gorodetsky mixed media moose antler sculpture, in progress)

Phase 4 – The two laikas are refined and the wild boar is roughed out in wood. Further detail of trees and bushes are added to the moose antler background. (Dmitry Gorodetsky mixed media moose antler sculpture, in progress)

Phase 5 - The two laikas wild boar are attached to the moose antler background. (Dmitry Gorodetsky mixed media moose antler sculpture, in progress)

Phase 5 – The two laikas wild boar are attached to the moose antler background. (Dmitry Gorodetsky mixed media moose antler sculpture, in progress)

Staining is of course a problem, even a dilemma sometimes, as the colours you get depend on the bone texture and the relief carving itself. It is difficult to stain moose antler, because each antler has a variety of porous and less porous areas. The porous areas can soak up too much of the stain and create dark spots, the colour lying unevenly over the antler surface.

6. Final Phase - The wood figures and moose antler background details have been refined. A stain has been applied selectively to bring out the carved detail. Note, some of the background has been left unstained in contrast, to create an effect of depth. 'Wild Boar and Laikas,' by Dmitry Gorodetsky (carved and stained moose antler and wood - 60cm x 32cm)

6. Final Phase – The wood figures and moose antler background details have been refined. A stain has been applied selectively to bring out the carved detail. Note, some of the background has been left unstained in contrast, to create an effect of depth. ‘Wild Boar and Laikas,’ by Dmitry Gorodetsky (carved and stained moose antler and wood – 60cm x 32cm)

Mammoth tusk can turn unexpected shades when stained too! Once, when staining the mammoth tusk carving (see image 17) in the same way as I had done with another carving before, it became a strange green-brown colour. I was shocked, thinking the work marred and spoilt, but after polishing it acquired a nice, antique coloration. There is quite a lot of information out there on natural and chemical substances that can be used for staining, as carving bone has quite a long and rich history, but it is important to note that each piece may react uniquely.

17. 'Wild Boar and Wolf,' by Dmitry Gorodetsky (carved and stained mammoth tusk - 22cm x 8cm)

17. ‘Wild Boar and Wolf,’ by Dmitry Gorodetsky (carved and stained mammoth tusk – 22cm x 8cm)

After staining, polishing can be applied, again, depending on the effect you want to have: polished things can seem more finished and have a more – so to say – “suitable for purchase” appearance. But sometimes a matte surface is more preferable as more natural. Using a burning tool makes the antler texture look peculiar and interesting, like having tiny dots on the surface, but it demands practice in determining the degree of heat to apply. This process is quite slow and very demanding. (see image 16)

16. 'Moose and Wolves' by Dmitry Gorodetsky (carved and stained moose antler - 54cm x 27cm)

16. ‘Moose and Wolves’ by Dmitry Gorodetsky (carved and stained moose antler – 54cm x 27cm)

I make wood bases for my carvings and like to use oak because of its texture. The base should match the antler in size and form; it can also have some carved elements on it but they shouldn’t be in excess, just a necessary addition to the carving to heighten the effect. As for a favourite tool, I like to use all of them, perhaps with just one preference: a 0.3mm burr and my Micro NX machine!

Dmitry Gorodetsky's website banner - click to visit!

Dmitry Gorodetsky’s website banner – click to visit!

7. How do you market your work? Is it made ‘on spec’ for sale in a gallery, or do you work by commission? Where do you sell your work?  How do you handle the logistics of selling to people in other countries (money, shipping, export/import, etc.)? I have my web site (http://carving-studio.com), post images of my carvings in various online forums (art, carving, hunting and taxidermy), and in online art galleries (Russian). Up to now I have made carvings by commission – people have come to know me through these resources. I am planning to take part in serious exhibitions; the preparation requires much time and effort, but it is a must-do, I think. I have never sold any work via Internet – many people write and ask about the way to buy the carvings but as soon as it comes to the shipping and paying question, they strangely disappear. Fortunately, not so long ago, international payments became much easier here. PayPal works for both sending and receiving funds from Russia.

Dmitry Gorodetsky renders beautifully carved detail onto one of his moose antler sculptures.

Dmitry Gorodetsky renders beautifully carved detail onto one of his moose antler sculptures.

8. What plans do you have for creating sculpture in the future? Thing number one which is now in my mind is to hold a personal exhibition for which to prepare a variety of compositions made in moose antler, mammoth tusk and other materials, devoted to wildlife. And in general it is to work hard, as making sculpture is an art which requires constant and continuous development of artistic skills and knowledge.

Ahead of the Curve: The Fine Art Antler of Maureen Morris

'Five Flamingos' (carved moose antler) by Maureen Morris

‘Five Flamingos’ (carved moose antler) by Maureen Morris

by Shane Wilson

Rare, those moments that change everything.

My world changed completely one summer upon a visit to Whitehorse’s Yukon Gallery. Before me on the gallery wall were presented breathtakingly stunning sculptural forms, fantastic, curvaceous birds made beautiful in carved antler by Maureen Morris. The year was 1985.

I have been hooked ever since on contemporary carved antler sculpture.

**********

Maureen Morris discovered her artistic calling early. In Grade One she wowed the teacher with a plastercine cow, modelled to six-year-old perfection; her teacher declared it best in the class. From then on, Maureen would “keep art in mind” as a career choice, making the decision to persue commercial (graphic) art after high school, “since that seemed the most common way to make a living as an artist at the time.” The Vancouver School of Art (better known today as Emily Carr University of Art and Design), accepted the aspiring artist and Maureen began her art education in earnest, absorbing everything with delight, in her element at last. The year was 1964.

'Bald Eagle' (carved and assembled moose antler) by Maureen Morris

‘Bald Eagle’ (carved and assembled moose antler) by Maureen Morris

Art school in the 60’s was about acquiring hard skills, after which the students were free to create without regard to ‘ism’. According to Maureen, “The teachers were very good, they knew what they were talking about. After First Year, we chose our own area in which to major and teachers gave very concrete instruction. They showed us how to do things.” Maureen got hooked “making things” and decided to major in clay sculpture (not pottery). “You needed to learn how to work the clay accurately from a model. There was a lot of help if you wanted it, but it wasn’t forced on you. If you became good at portraying accurately what was in front of you, you could go on to do anything you wanted.”

Maureen enjoyed the comradery of art school, “There was so much positive energy, and in the pub after school there was a lot of art conversation filled with wit and laughter.” Upon graduation in 1969, she recalls, “I didn’t know how I was going to make a living as an artist, but knew I was going to keep working at it.” Meantime, Maureen sold clothing at a local dress shop.

In 1972, a company called New World Jade opened its doors, hoping to exploit ‘Polar Jade’, the wonderful nephrite resource discovered in 1969 on Ogden Mountain, near the British Columbia-Alberta border, in western Canada. They planned to train, then employ local artisans to create jade sculpture (northern–not arctic–bears and birds), based on the co-operative model pioneered a decade earlier by John Houston for Canada’s Inuit artisans.

'Two Loons' (carved moose antler) by Maureen Morris

‘Two Loons’ (carved moose antler) by Maureen Morris

When a friend of a friend mentioned the start-up operation, Maureen applied immediately and was hired; she dropped the dress business and forever turned to carving. She was not alone. Several other prominent Canadian sculptors got their start at New World Jade, many still working in the medium today, among them Deborah Wilson and Alex Schick, also graduates of the Vancouver School of Art.

Maureen admits that jade was a difficult medium to carve, “My job was to make simple forms on the 8″ carbide grinding wheel. What could be accomplished was pretty limited because there were no air tools for precision grinding. It was clammy and cold standing there in gum boots, rain gear, goggles and mask. The jade, held tightly to my body, chattered against the wheel and my hands ached. I liked the finished pieces, but I didn’t like the process.”

It was in jade that Maureen began carving birds. Simply beautiful, curvaceous creatures, constrained by an 8″ carbide circumference. Deborah Wilson rememebers “Maureen’s wonderful flowing forms that worked so well with jade. She had a gift!” adding, “she was easily one of the most skilled and productive sculptors in the group.” The sculptors were paid $2.25 an hour.

New World Jade shut down studio operations a little over two years later. Maureen followed her desire to get out of the city and travelled the breadth of B.C. to find a new spot to settle. She recalls, “It was the ‘back to the land’ time. I wanted to be able to buy a piece of property and not rent, someplace smaller and closer to the wilderness. When I drove into Atlin, that was it. I said, ‘I’m staying!'”

Maureen Morris in her jade and antler carving studio.

Maureen Morris in her jade and antler carving studio.

Maureen brought jade carving tools with her to Atlin, along with something new, a Dremel grinder. New World Jade reopened for a time and agreed to carry her beautiful jade birds, which always sold. This lasted for a year, during which time Maureen began experimenting with antler, using jade carving techniques.

Maureen became interested in antler as a medium after observing it carved on the grinding wheel at the artist-run jade carving co-op which sprang up after New World Jade closed.

'Halibut' (carved moose antler) by Maureen Morris

‘Halibut’ (carved moose antler) by Maureen Morris

“I thought it was really interesting stuff. But it stunk when they were working on it. The co-op didn’t have a dust collection system because they were working primarily in Jade which used water on the wheel to control dust. But I thought I would love to try working with antler because there were plenty of antlers in Atiln, on every house or in every yard. One day I noticed a dog gnawing on a huge set of caribou antlers and asked the owner if I could buy them. He laughed and said I could have them. I bought him a case of beer anyway. And that was the start.”

Maureen Morris working with the Foredom Flexible Shaft grinder.

Maureen Morris working with the Foredom Flexible Shaft grinder.

Initially, Maureen carved antler using techniques learned on jade. She held the antler tightly to her body and carved by leaning into a carbide grinding wheel. Maureen found the antler absorbed the water she used to control the dust, swelling, cracking, and taking weeks to dry. After the grinder-shaped antler dried, Maureen added carved detail with a Dremel. Soon she realized that, “it was a lot more pleasurable to be sitting and carving with the Dremel, even though it was dusty. I prefered it to standing and pushing on the grinding wheel, so I packed up the wheels, acquired Foredoms, a band saw and other tools that helped  remove water from the carving process altogether.”

Though Maureen may have altered her methods for working in antler, she retained the design aesthetic developed in jade. Maureen cut the antler to create works similarly scaled to her works in jade. She used antler as a medium for design, not as a form to be decorated. And in doing so, she transformed antler carving from craft into fine art.

Maureen Morris’ sculpture is typified by absolutely gorgeous line. According to Maureen, “it’s all about the curves – curves making energy. I like to move them around the carving if I can. Maybe the line starts at the head and travels around the wing and then disappears around the back of the bird. It makes for greater visual appeal. I think, unconsciously, I started carving antler with the same kind of shapes I previously carved jade, using clean curving lines, because I just had one big wheel to work on and couldn’t do tight corners or convoluted shapes. I don’t have to be simple now, but the shapes usually start out that way. I have rarely done a straight line, except for bird beaks and feathers.”

'Padded Headdress' (carved antler and gold leaf and paint) by Maureen-Morris

‘Padded Headdress’ (carved antler and gold leaf and paint) by Maureen-Morris

A founding member of the Studio Gallery Association, a collective of contemporary northern artists working in a variety of media, Maureen decided to diversify her designs to accommodate their first major group showing in 2003, which would become known as the ‘Chess Show’. It was to be held in one of the north’s premier public art spaces, the Yukon Art Centre Gallery in Whitehorse. “They asked me how much wall space I would need,” Maureen recalls. “I hadn’t even decided what I was going to do, but knew I wanted to work big because I never had. So I said I wanted a whole wall!”

She relished the challenge of creating an entirely new body of work and so turned from her infinitely variable, imaginary bird and fish forms to try her hand at faces, creating imagined profiles of living chess pieces, complete with crowns, mitres and helmets. The concept was a smashing success and lead to a solo show in 2006 at the same gallery which Maureen dubbed the ‘Headwear, Helmets, Hats and Halos Show’. It was followed a year later in 2007, with profiles inspired by Tarot card imagery for the Studio Gallery’s next major public offering, aptly named ‘The Tarot Show’.

'Queen of the Cosmos' (carved antler assemblage) by Maureen Morris

‘Queen of the Cosmos’ (carved antler assemblage) by Maureen Morris

Creating the relief effect on antler was a challenge. Maureen explains, “Working large on a moose antler it’s hard to create the illusion of three dimensions. I never had as much depth as I wanted since the antler was at most half an inch thick. It was difficult but I learned to see ahead, to plan ahead.”

Frustrated when she finds herself bored repeating a design “over and over with little difference”, Maureen likes to “leap in with a new approach, without a preordained idea, just to see where it goes.” Maureen explains, “I like to set fresh sculptural problem-solving tasks for myself.” Lately, Maureen has turned to a store of caribou shovels (the part of their antlers that extend, fan-like, in front of their noses) which she has been saving for years. “I kept these antler pieces because they are perfect and I want to do just the right thing with them, the thing that maximizes the beauty of the antler.” She enthuses, “I’ve been coming up with some different stuff that is really exciting!”

'Caribou Shovel Bird 1' (carved caribou antler) by Maureen Morris

‘Caribou Shovel Bird 1’ (carved caribou antler) by Maureen Morris

**********

Shane: “Maureen, can you describe a typical day in the studio?”

'Three Birds in a Pod' (carved antler) by Maureen Morris

‘Three Birds in a Pod’ (carved antler) by Maureen Morris

Maureen: “It depends on what I’m doing. Right now I’m working for myself because I don’t have any orders. When I have orders I work to what people expect. So, this time of the year, I’ll come into the studio and start the fire, look around to see what I have to do, then sit down in this chair, look out across the lake and carry on. What I have a lot of orders, I have to make a whole cross-section of different carvings, usually birds, because that is what the galleries want. I try to give them pieces with different prices, so my carvings are affordable for everybody. I also try to include different shapes so the pieces are interesting to look at on display.”

Shane: “Suppose you have an order for 10 birds, do you work on them simultaneously, or one at a time?”

Maureen: “That depends. Sometimes, when I come across a caribou or moose antler with a beautiful creamy colour, I’ll try to make 4 or 5 birds from it. I’ll work them all at the same time and save the finishing work for a dull day. I have never liked the finishing work. That was one advantage at New World Jade, they hired people to do the finishing. I’d love to have an apprentice to do just that!”

Shane: “Can you tell me a little about your process? How do you work the antler? What tools do you use?”

Maureen: “After looking at the antler, I’ll sketch out the rough outline of the carving, careful to take advantage of interesting shapes in the antler. Then I’ll cut out the rough shape on the band saw, which leaves straight lines, facets and edges, which are then smoothed off on the drum sander.

'Two Starlings on a Vertebra' (carved caribou antler and bone) by Maureen Morris

‘Two Starlings on a Vertebra’ (carved caribou antler and bone) by Maureen Morris

“The drum sander is a great tool. Not too many carvers seem to know about it. It creates a nice round surface. You push the antler against it and it takes a lot of material off quickly, especially when you’re using a fresh belt. It makes a lot of dust  but helps refine the shape of the carving further, rounding it closer to the shape I want. (Yes, I have a dust collection system, but it is still very dusty!)

“I have 3 Foredom Flexible Shaft grinders, one is the heavy duty 1/2HP H Series model and the other two are 1/4HP S Series models. I use the Foredoms to further rough out the shape of the carving.

'Falcon with Wing Outstretched' (carved moose antler) by Maureen Morris

‘Falcon with Wing Outstretched’ (carved moose antler) by Maureen Morris

“For fine detail, I use the NSK Elector (EMax) Micromotor grinder. I have purchased a few of them over the years and it’s my very favourite tool for detail. I can do anything with it! I have experimented with all kinds of surface details over the years: stippling, little dimples, round holes, not to mention the definition of feathers, eyes, beaks, etc. The handpiece tends to fill with dust and eventually the bearings fail and need to be replaced. My partner, Archie, can fix them for me now but I used to have to send them away to be repaired at some expense. But I wouldn’t use any other tool. (All micromotor grinders draw dust into their armatures, eventually resulting in bering failure.)

'Bass' (carved moose antler) by Maureen Morris

‘Bass’ (carved moose antler) by Maureen Morris

“Next I’ll use small 6” files to clean up some of the lines. When I want a really sharp line of a feather or bird’s beak that I can’t necessarily get clean enough with the NSK, a file will do the job.

“To create an even surface texture, where I haven’t created a deliberate texture or left the antler in its natural skin, I’ll go over the carving with 100 grit sandpaper. This removes tool marks and scratches.

“My final step is to brush the surface with a short natural bristle. I use either a tooth brush or the brush on the reverse side of a file card. The brush is perfect for removing all of the little antler bits that are left in the cracks as it buffs the antler and gives it a bit of a gleam, just a bit.

'Falcon' (carved moose antler) by Maureen Morris

‘Falcon’ (carved moose antler) by Maureen Morris

“Once the sculpture is finished, it is mounted with screws and glue to a variety of bone or wood stands or wall mounted backgrounds.”

Shane: “How long does a typical carving take to complete?”

Maureen: “Since I can work several carvings at one time, it is a little hard to say, but the smaller carvings can be completed in a day.”

Shane: “How have you marketed your work?”

Maureen: “I never had to look for market and don’t even have a CV. I’ve been lucky because people have approached me. Friends have recommended galleries in such diverse places as Calgary and Colorado. The North End Gallery in Whitehorse has been my main outlet for a long time. I used to sell really well in Skagway, but that community has been hit hard by the downturn in the economy. The little gallery in Atlin usually does pretty well in the summer but it was down in sales this year too. Right now I’m just looking around and think I should get a little more proactive instead of just waiting for things to drop in my lap.”

'Roman Helmet' (carved and coloured moose antler) by Maureen Morris

‘Roman Helmet’ (carved and coloured moose antler) by Maureen Morris

Shane: “What about pricing your work?”

Maureen: “When I began, I didn’t have anything with which to compare, so I based my pricing on the time that it took me to complete a carving. If I really liked something, the price was bumped a little higher and if I didn’t like something, maybe their was a little ding on it or something, then the price was lower. Everything sold. I priced the little birds at $7 each, remember this was in the 70s, and eventually the prices went up because I couldn’t keep up with the orders. I have been selling my work at current prices for many years without an increase, so I guess I’m still getting away with it!”

'Two Bird Wagon' (carved and assembled moose antler) by Maureen Morris

‘Two Bird Wagon’ (carved and assembled moose antler) by Maureen Morris

Shane: “Have you considered raising the prices further, or have you found a balance with what the market will bear?”

Maureen: “Exactly, I juggle. If I had access to a market with more money, I would make bigger pieces. I make small pieces so that everybody can afford them, with some bigger pieces mixed in. If I could afford it, I would do more experimental stuff or more headwear pieces, but I have a living to make, so… But I like making the little birds, I really enjoy them.”

Shane: “What about commissioned work?”

'Bird Hat' (carved moose antler) by Maureen Morris

‘Bird Hat’ (carved moose antler) by Maureen Morris

Maureen: “I don’t particularly like special orders, but sometimes I have to take them. People usually want me to repeat things. Once I made a huge loon, now in the Yukon Permanent Art Collection. Two other people wanted loons just like it. The first one went fine, but the second one took weeks to do because I couldn’t find the right piece of antler. Really, it’s impossible to make two carvings exactly the same in antler, but I know that’s what people want, so I make them as much alike as possible.”

Shane: “Where do you get your antlers?”

Maureen: “Antlers are in plentiful supply in the north. I used to trade a carving for antlers, but now have more antlers than I’ll be able to carve in my natural lifetime. Many years ago Ed Kurshner, a local outfitter, died while on holidays in Thailand. When his estate was sold, a shed full of antlers was put up for auction. I put in a bid and got them all – two full truckloads of moose and caribou antler. I know that Ed would have been happy that I got them because he liked my work. Archie built me a storage shed for the antlers and I have been working with them ever since. I have also bought antlers from other suppliers, particularly when I needed several larger ones for the ‘Headwear’ show.”

Shane: “If you had to do it over again, would you do anything differently?”

Maureen: “Probably try to get better carving technology much earlier on! When I met Archie, he introduced me to the technology I use now. The studio is pretty well set up now. Would I have done anything else? I don’t think so. If I were the same person, I can’t see how I would have made different choices. I like what I’m doing!”

'Bird Beak Hat' (carved moose antler and colour) by Maureen Morris

‘Bird Beak Hat’ (carved moose antler and colour) by Maureen Morris

Shane: “Looking back over your career, what are some of the highlights?”

Maureen: “I have enjoyed all my shows, with the possible exception of the ‘Chess’ show. I enjoyed making the pieces and they were well received, but I suffered a ‘heart event’ during the show. My first show was held in the basement of Mac’s bookstore in Whitehorse. It was a huge success which led to more shows when the gallery was moved aboveground to the Sheffield Hotel (now the Westmark Whitehorse). I had a good relationship with the owners, Bill and Val Braden. The highlight, though, has to be my ‘Headwear’ show at the Yukon Arts Centre – that was great!”

'Queen of Swords' (carved moose antler assemblage) by Maureen Morris

‘Queen of Swords’ (carved moose antler assemblage) by Maureen Morris

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It has been 40 years since Maureen began her carving career, 2 years working jade followed by 38 years carving antler. In that time she has perfected her art creating thousands of antler carvings. Carvings that have brought joy, pleasure, and delight to collectors world-wide.

'Eight Birds' (carved caribou antler) by Maureen Morris

‘Eight Birds’ (carved caribou antler) by Maureen Morris

Ruth McCullough is the founding Curator of the Yukon Permanent Art Collection. Now retired, during her tenure she influenced the development and expansion of the visual arts and cultural industries in Yukon and Northern BC. Ruth opines that one of Maureen’s greatest accomplishments has been to firmly establish “antler carving on the art map.”

Neil Graham, a well-known Yukon painter and also a founding member of the Studio Gallery Association, reflects on Maureen’s artistic qualities and character:

“Maureen has been a part of the Studio Gallery Association since its inception in the late 90’s. We have shared many shows together and Maureen always presents with a level of quality and professionalism that elevates our exhibitions. Despite her success and consistency, Maureen displays a modesty and earthiness that is comforting and inspiring. She lives simply, is an accomplished and innovative gardener, and has a beautiful, welcoming home. She has a phenomenal work ethic that rouses us all to greater heights. In collaborative work. Maureen is always involved, always enthusiastic, always a joy to work with. We love her.”

Maureen Morris in her garden.

Maureen Morris in her garden.

At 67, Maureen shows no sign of slowing down. Her passionate quest for fresh ways to express her love of form continues to drive her forward into new realms of design and technique. When asked what the future holds, Maureen respsonds with a chuckle, “Not retirement, that will never happen! I love the carving. I am good at it now and it is good for me. I’ll never stop carving antler.”

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MAUREEN MORRIS – IMAGE GALLERY

Calgary Wildfowl Carving Art Festival – Antler Sculpture Division

Calgary Wildfowl Carving and Art Festival - Banner and Entrance

Calgary Wildfowl Carving and Art Festival, Inglewood Hall, Calgary, Alberta, Canada

The Calgary Wildfowl Carving Art Festival included, for the first time anywhere of which I am aware, a distinct, competitive Antler Sculpture Division. Though the focus of the Festival was the representation of bird life in wood, the subject matter included in the Antler Sculpture Division was all inclusive.

It was an honour to attend the Festival as judge of the Antler Sculpture Division.

As a new competitive division, there was a necessity to divide the entries into basic categories and establish guidelines upon which the work was to be judged. (Antler carvers – please feel free to comment on this post with any feedback you have which will help inform future competitions.)

There are many different ways antler (or horn, bone and ivory) can be used in art, but the focus of an Antler Sculpture Division is work in antler that has been carved in some way.

I have identified 4 broadly defined categories of Antler Sculpture:

ANTLER SCULPTURE CATEGORIES

1. ANTLER – the antler is carved without the addition of colour, stain, burning or other media

2. COLOURED ANTLER – the antler is carved with additions of colour, stain, or burning

3. MIXED MEDIA ANTLER – the antler is carved with the addition of other media (wood, gut, other), with or without colour

4. OTHER RELATED – a catch-all category for carvings in horn, bone or ivory

Within each of these categories, sub-categories may be created for full or partial antlers. Eventually, the creation of skill level classes for novice, intermediate or open carvers may also be desirable.

First Place, Mixed Media Antler – ‘Wild Boar and Laikas’ by Dmitry Gorodetsky

First Place, Mixed Media Antler – ‘Wild Boar and Laikas’ by Dmitry Gorodetsky

When judging Antler Sculpture, several things should be taken into consideration:

ANTLER SCULPTURE GUIDELINES

A. Quality of the carving: is the work clean, precise and appropriate for the effect being attempted; does the artist employ variety in line and texture?

B. Use of antler: have the unique features of the antler been utilized in the carving (twists, turns, abnormalities, natural colours, multiple planes)?

C. Composition: is the design of the carving effective based on common artistic principles, does it work well with the natural structure and layout of the antler?

D. Originality: has the artist attempted to create something of his/her own, rather than following an established pattern?

E. Detail: is the level of detail appropriate for the way in which the sculpture is to be viewed or ‘read’?

Calgary Carving Festival Antler Carving Competition Entries

F. Colour: does the addition of colour (paint, stain, burning) enhance the carving or draw attention away from the carving?

G. Other Media: does the addition of other media (wood, gut, feathers, etc.) enhance the carving or draw attention away from the carving?

H. Subject: the sky’s the limit for subject matter depicted (realistic, abstract, animal, vegetable, mineral, etc.); has it been carefully considered and depicted in an interesting way?

I. Style: does the artist have a unique style, is it consistent throughout the work?

And now for the results of the Calgary Wildfowl Carving Art Festival – Antler Sculpture Division!

First Place, Coloured Antler - ‘Grizzly and Miner’ by Rob Baumann

Rob Baumann holds his antler sculpture, ‘Grizzly and Miner’, which took First Place, Coloured Antler

ANTLER SCULPTURE DIVISION RESULTS

1. ANTLER: First Place – ‘Ram’ (in progress) by Keith Levoir

2. COLOURED ANTLER: First Place – ‘Grizzly and Miner’ by Rob Baumann

3. MIXED MEDIA ANTLER: First Place – ‘Wild Boar and Laikas’ by Dmitry Gorodetsky; Second Place – ‘Bear and Laikas’ by Dmitry Gorodetsky

4. OTHER RELATED: First Place – ‘Rams and Cougars’ (big horn ram horn) by Tom Anderson (OLPA); Second Place – ‘Caribou’ (musk oxen horn) by Jason Voghell

Congratulations to all who participated!

Vistors to the Festival appreciate the carved antler and horn sculptures.

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