Featured Artist | Bill Dawson
Bill Dawson began carving as a hobby a decade ago. His work, since that time, has transitioned from small to larger, more complex pieces, yet has retained a gentle reverence for the animal forms it depicts, deeply rooted in craft and expertly sculpted. Gallery Director Hannah Reeves asks Dawson about his relationship to his craft in this week’s Featured Artist interview.
Reeves: What was the very first thing you carved from wood? Could you describe the progression of your sculpting since then?
Dawson: I first carved a mourning dove, just because I’ve always loved them. After that I began to turn to larger birds: an avocet, a pileated woodpecker, an ibis, a kingfisher. I still did smaller birds as well. At some time I began doing humorous animals (these not life size): dancing ballet pigs, a pelican in tidy whities (The Pelican Briefs). Later I finally turned to an antelope head (impala) for myself, still just because I like them, and then I made a couple more for [my daughter] Lily’s and my son Joe’s new apartment. That’s about the time Lily began to plant the seeds of making other heads and making them public.
Reeves: Could you describe your method of carving? What is the most challenging part of your process?
Dawson: I learned simply by trial and error. I use craft saws for most of the larger cuts, turning to knives for the details. The two most challenging things are working from a two-dimensional image and turning it into three dimensions. At the beginning that’s a very slow process of cutting away a little, looking it over, then cutting a little more if needed. The second is piecing together the various prongs of a set of antlers (basswood only comes in limited sizes, so it would be impossible to carve an entire head and rack from one piece).
Reeves: Why have you chosen mostly Basswood? How much difference does your choice of wood make in the ultimate product?
Dawson: Basswood’s the standard for carvers. Doesn’t split, easy to work with, yet strong enough to support weight (such as in the kudu on the gallery wall). I have worked with tupelo, a lighter-weight wood, but it’s awfully soft and easily nicked–the dancing pigs stand on one trotter, so they’re awfully top-heavy, so I used tupelo for them.
Reeves: Is there a feeling, thought, or impression you’d like for your work to elicit in its viewers?
Dawson: I’d just like to represent the beauty that’s in nature.
Reeves: What has influenced you as you’ve progressed as a sculptor?
Dawson: Carving animals is an old tradition (especially wading birds), so there are lots of models out there for me to have seen and studied.