Learning Experience

By: Tom Huntington

This fall I carved an owl. It was for a class at the Ward Museum of Wildfowl Art taught by Rich Smoker. I spent three days on my owl, which was an “antique-style” bird that looked like it could have been used by a hunter to lure crows. I opted to carve mine by hand with knives and a drawknife. While using the drawknife, I managed to tear a big chunk of wood out of my owl’s back, but Dr. Rich quickly patched it up with a little epoxy and some masking tape. I was back to work before I knew it.

When I signed up for the class, I told Rich my goal was to produce something that looked like it had been done by a “moderately talented 10-year-old.” During the painting process, I told him he could drop the “moderately talented.” Yet, by the time it was finished, I was absurdly pleased with my owl. I hope my wife will be, too, because it’s going to be her Christmas present.

I guess the point is, you don’t have to be an expert to enjoy carving birds. Just have fun with it—even the painting.

Rich is, without doubt, an expert. In fact, he was recently named a National Heritage Fellow by the National Endowment of the Arts, which is quite an honor. For every class he does, Rich uses his expertise to create detailed carving and painting notes and by now he’s compiled a big stack of them. It struck us that these class notes would be helpful to our readers, so we will start running them in the magazine starting next issue. As if that isn’t enough exciting news, Rich is also working on a workbench project book for us, so keep an eye out for details. It’s going to be a great one!

I don’t normally like to use this space to note the passing of carvers, but I feel I should make an exception for Tan Brunet. The five-time world champion and true giant in the carving world died in November, and the carving community mourned. I remember when I attended the Louisiana Wildfowl Carvers and Collectors Guild show a few years ago and the Brunets—Tan and his sons Jett and Jude—arrived. It was like being at a Hollywood premiere. Cameras flashed and a big crowd formed around them. The carving world will certainly miss Tan Brunet, but there is some comfort knowing that Jett and Jude are still carving and producing great work. That’s how you create a legacy.


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