Fire Bird

An accident turned a beautiful swan into an ugly duckling. Can its creator reverse the transformation?

By: Jamie Welsh
Photography by Jamie Welsh

Once I completed the seam, I finished the paint on the rest of the head and neck. Due to the heavy texturing on the neck, I couldn’t remove the soot from the fire as well as I would have liked, so I decided to repaint the entire neck. I still ended up having to re-carve areas in order to have a good transition between the two pieces. You never know what challenges you’ll face when doing a repair to a carving, so be prepared for about anything!

In 1999, the bird for the World Pairs division at the Ward World Championship was a single swan of any species. I guess they figured one swan equaled two of any other waterfowl. They were right. Nothing I had carved had prepared me mentally or physically for the 10 months of hard labor that awaited me when I started working on my swan in the early summer of 1998. The tundra swan that slowly emerged from a trunk of Louisiana tupelo almost got the better of me. The excitement I felt as I applied the last brush stroke soon turned into disappointment when I came back from the show empty-handed after the competition. I faced the prospect of having the swan become part of the Jamie Welsh Permanent Collection as there isn't much of a market for decorative swan carvings.

The beast sat in my shop, collecting dust and getting in the way, until a collector bought it in 2005. I thought I would never lay eyes on the carving again—and then in early 2010, the phone rang. There had been a fire in the collector's home and debris from a crumbling fireplace had damaged the swan, destroying the head, tail feathers, and primaries. When I received photos of the damage, I realized I could not repair the head. I had to replace it.

This article is from the Winter 2011 issue. For more information on our issues, check out our issues page.


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