Keystone Carver

Jim Hazeley's been carving birds in Pennsylvania for a long time with great results.

By: Bill Einsig
Photo by Bill Einsig

Jim Hazeley's California quail demonstrates his attention to detail.

If you talk with almost any carver in South Central Pennsylvania, Jim Hazeley’s name will surely come up. Jim has been carving since 1981, and his skill with decorative shorebirds and songbirds is well known and widely admired.
A native of Philadelphia, Jim attended the University of Pennsylvania and the University of Florida. As the Korean conflict was winding down he joined the U.S. Navy while still in college. After college, Jim served from 1954 to 1963 as a pilot of a P2V maritime patrol.

“Our job was to look for Russian subs,” he says.
After leaving the Navy, Jim took a job as product designer with Armstrong World Industries in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. In more than three decades with Armstrong, Jim served as designer and graphic artist in several areas of the company and was eventually promoted to design manager, a position he held until his retirement in 1996.
Jim traces his interest in art back to his childhood. He started with flat art and sculpting when he was 10 years old, and both media have remained a part of his life. His home is filled with scenics and portraits he has painted over the years.

For his first entry at Ward World Championship in Salisbury, Maryland, Jim carved a barn owl and weasel in an eye-to-eye confrontation. It took Best in Show that year in Life-size Decorative, at the novice level. In 1984, Jim’s family of wood ducks took Second in Show in Life-size Decorative, intermediate. That year, he also took Third in World, Decorative Miniature, with a sage grouse. By 1995, Jim had taken two of the three top spots at the open level in Life-size Decorative with a Best in Show for a Wilson’s storm petrel and Third in Show with a barn swallow. He also took Third in World, Miniature, that year with a pair of northern gannets. These wins moved him into the Masters class at the Ward.

Another favorite competitive venue for Jim’s work has been the Wings ’n’ Water Festival at the Wetlands Institute in Stone Harbor, New Jersey. Jim has won the festival’s National Shorebird Championship five times since his first championship in 1989. He has finished second in six of those same years. (Incidentally, after 29 years of holding this event in later September, the show’s organizers are moving the festival to July in 2012 and dropping the carving competition.) Jim has also participated at a variety of regional shows, including the Mid-Atlantic Waterfowl Festival in Virginia Beach, Virginia, the annual Waterfowl Festival in Easton, Maryland, and the Canadian National Exhibition (CNE), Toronto, Canada. In 1987 and 1988, he also won the National Songbird Championship, hold in York, Pennsylvania. For many years, he attended the Easton Waterfowl Festival where he could sell a few pieces and earn enough to pay for his weekend and cover some tools and supplies. However, in 2011, he skipped Easton for the first time in many years.
But for all of his success at national and regional shows, Jim has never forgotten shows close to home. He has been an active member of Lancaster County Woodcarvers and has participated in local shows reaching across the southern tier of Pennsylvania. Overall, Jim estimates winning more than 150 for first, second, or third division ribbons, plaques, and other awards. In addition, with the exception of the CNE, he has judged at all of the shows mentioned. With these many awards, it’s understandable that Jim’s work has appeared in Competition magazine many times. He contributed a demonstration of the Belted Kingfisher crest for the Summer issue of Wildfowl Carving & Collecting in 1989. You’ll also find a chapter on Jim’s work in Roger Schroeder’s Championship Wildfowl Carving

Tupelo is Jim’s favorite wood because of the detail it lets him achieve in his work. He also likes Jo Sonja acrylics and their gouache with acrylic binder.

“I’ve used Liquitex but I think its finish is a bit too shiny,” he says. “I prefer the matte finish of Jo Sonja, and I like the durability of the acrylic gouache.”
While Jim uses an airbrush for habitat, he rarely uses it on his birds.

“I like the effect of a brush when I paint,” he says. “I’ve just never been satisfied with what I get from an airbrush.”

Jim feels his greatest advantage in carving birds has been his background in design. He looks at each project with a designer’s eye and tries to capture a vital image of the live bird in appropriate habitat, but it’s clear that Jim’s work always focuses on the bird. Rarely will you see one of Jim’s carvings with head and eyes looking straight ahead, unless that happens to be the place where the action is taking place.

“I’ve seen too many dead birds on a stick through my years of competition,” he says. “I try to capture a moment of activity.”

After he develops a basic idea for a new carving, Jim sketches a draft of his pattern and then uses an Artgraph Prism projector to enlarge the pattern to the size he wants. He does that by inserting his drawing into the projector and focusing the image on his drawing easel. Then he can change the image size until he gets any known measurement to its correct length. Often that’s the mandible, especially with shorebirds. Once he has that, he can draw the rest of the bird life-size to form his working pattern.
Jim also likes to place a bit of appropriate food in his bird’s mouth or talons or as part of the habitat. His puffin holds a mouthful of sand eels, his nuthatch explores an opened acorn, and his snowy owl grasps a lemming. The bird, the prey, and the habitat capture a moment—an activity—in time. What’s even more impressive is that his carvings remind many of us of those same moments we’ve actually seen in the natural world. His work recalls those encounters and allows us to experience their pleasure once again.
However, Jim offers a word of caution about adding prey to a bird’s habitat. He’s noticed that many potential buyers react negatively when they see a furry critter or young bird in the grasp of a raptor. If it’s cold-blooded, it’s okay. If it’s fuzzy, warm, or cute, watch out. You could lose the sale. Would-be nature lovers have a limit on the reality they want to experience.
Jim has not competed at most competitions for several years, although he still participates in his Lancaster club’s show and the Stone Harbor show. In fact, after three decades in wildfowl carving, Jim is now planning to return to a project he had begun before he “bumped into” Ernie Muehlmatt in 1981. It’s a painting of his daughter and a carousel flying horse. It’s been on his bucket list for a long time, and he’s determined to get back to it—but rest assured, there are also a few more birds on that list, too.

This article is from the Spring 2012 issue. For more information on our issues, check out our issues page.


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