The Artist

Hand carving a wooden sign

Hand carving a wooden sign

I was first drawn to the arts while working at Mystic Seaport. There I found myself surrounded by maritime arts. There are carved stylized golden eagles by Bellamy, intricately detailed life like figureheads by Gleason, Campbell and Colby, drawings and paintings by Grant, Gale and Leavitt that capture the lives and personalities of the men and ships so well you can taste the salt in the air and feel the swell under your feet. I knew right then, I wanted to express thoughts and feelings with chisels, mallets, brushes and paints.

Knowing my direction, but not having all the skills to accomplish them, took me to the University of Connecticut Fine Arts Department. There I wrestled with drawing in studios with Mozzacca and I welded sculpture in the fumes with Serra. I also cooked dusty, heavy clay portrait heads in kilns with Hitchcock and painted landscape watercolors with Cosgrove and Dudera. Thinking back though, it was Walters who opened up a world of juicy oil paints and, like the Pied Piper, he led my friends and me down those school hallways to a level of excitement in the arts that has never left my heart.

After college, in an effort to make an income related to the field I had studied, I started a sign carving business with my father an accomplished wood worker, and my sister, a calligrapher. My dad knows wood and the hand tools and machines to shape it. Although he said he was just there to lend an extra set of hands when I needed them, in reality he was teaching me an “old way” of working with wood that isn’t found in any school.

Now, twenty years later, painting, carving and creating in a restored barn behind the house my wife Ellen and I designed and built, I can still say I love it. I think that’s because every commission, whether it’s an original piece, a reproduction, or a restoration, is a new challenge and an education. Often to create, restore or reproduce an artwork the process begins in a historical society or a library looking for clues in photos or written descriptions. While reproducing something one can’t help but learn the techniques of the original craftsmen and artists. You learn how the Skillin family carved hair or hands, or how differently Dentzel and Loof would carve a mane or a saddle. The style of a feather from a Rush or a Bellamy, or a French or Saint-Gaudens wing, are all hugely different from one another. Even a brush stroke and the color in it can be the difference between a Pyle, a Wyeth or a Sloan. So, in imitating others’ chips or strokes, one can’t help but learn some of their styles and techniques, and in doing so, better express one’s own visions in paint, wood or clay.

Although a lot of my work is owned privately and kept behind closed doors, some of it can be seen right here in the website. Some of it can be seen out in public. For instance if you are around the water you might see the carved mahogany figurehead on the schooner Amistad or the six-foot aluminum cast figure on the bow of the Arabella out of Newport, RI. In a museum in Garibaldi, Oregon you can see a seven foot tall carving of the Columbia Redivia’s figurehead. If you are in Philadelphia you can see the bronze eagle on top of the gazebo at the Fairmount Waterworks. In Longmeadow, Massachusetts look at the carved Georgian style bullseye window on the Storr’s Library.

Closer to home in Watch Hill, Rhode Island I restored 20 wooden horses on a hundred and forty year old carousel and hand painted 36 new rounding boards. In Mystic, Connecticut, be sure to see the acanthus leaf pediment on the Mystic Library. There is even a flagpole eagle 100 feet over Route One next to the river in the middle of town. But take my word for it , don’t look up too long, Route One can be dangerous… Then at Mystic Seaport you can see the cigar store figure in front of the Stone’s Store or any of the carved signs or quarter boards or trail boards I’ve carved there. Actually there are literally hundreds of carved signs I’ve done throughout this area and up and down the coast. So, whether its painted or sculpted, it is all a product of what I love doing. I love to create.

One thought on “The Artist

  1. Hello Gary,

    I browsed your web site and I am even more impressed than when I visited you…. Being able to picture your workshop in my memory, having met you, your sister and your son, that gives me an extra dimension of your beautiful work . I will never see a gold leafed eagle with the same eyes:-)
    Thanks again for the wood. I am working on the other spoon ( in addition to the one I made and gave to Sarah) that I had shaped with your sandbelt.
    It seems to come as I wanted. When I am done with this one, I will play a bit with fresh buckthorn and almond tree that I have just been given, while they are still green and so pleasant to work. I keep the mahoganny for winter days:-).
    I only begin to realize what that means to work wood, really working, not doodling . It takes a life time and probably some more to see how many gifted artists can teach you the world of creating various kinds of beauty. Should I be a religious man, I would hesitate between music and sculpture as the ultimate proof that there is a God somewhere.
    I am currently listening to Nick Mulvey, very soothing and pleasant music, a bit like Elliott Smith. Try “Yodelice” as well, I love it while working.

    Very kind regards,
    Pierre-François HUET

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