I received Parables, Wood Sculptures for Christmas. I requested it after seeing several of the pieces featured both in ads by Fox Chapel and in Wood Carving Illustrated magazine. I had been struck by the cover picture entitled Songbirds on the Wind, showing a musical staff, with notes being transformed into birds flying free of the musical limitations. The notes are the first measures of the hymn, This is My Father's World. I knew I wanted to see what else the artist had to offer.
This book is a revelation at many levels! Even if it were written in a foreign language, the sculptures would speak of the artists' abilities, his talents for shaping wood, and his vision for seeing beauty hidden within ancient and weathered West Texas Juniper, Mesquite, and a few other species. Adding his words only increases the effect the work has on me. The cover message noting that this book is the Art and Message of J. Christopher White hints that there is much more to this work than the sculpture and a simple description. What lays inside is a book, devote in it's Christian message, strong in the author's beliefs and convictions, and each piece is described, not for what it is, but how life's experiences, shaped by faith, have created a vision of the art, based on a scriptural reference, and inscribed with a poem.
For the Christian artist and believer, this book will add a depth and meaning to many well-known scriptural passages and give inspiration and awe at the mastery of the medium. For the artist who has not established their beliefs, or chooses not to follow the Christian religion, this book will still stand on its' own merits for the quality of the work, the execution of detail, and finesse of the finished work. Some may be overpowered and dismayed by the strong convictions of the artist, and read his words as being too forthright about his relationship with God. It is clear that artist White has a strong faith, one that permeates every inch of his work and life. He is willing to share it openly and honestly as he uses his beliefs to intertwine scripture, poetry, words, and wood into artistry that is at once both understandable and impenetrable in the depth of emotion and faith carved into each rugged log.
Technically, this book does not speak to the how-to's of carving such sculpture. There is virtually nothing about tools, and only one picture of a piece in progress shows a carving mallet. There is reference to these logs being found deep in canyons and nearly inaccessible spots that require rappelling down cliffs and carving huge amounts of wood off of a piece before it can even be attempted to be removed to the artist's workshop. Clearly the artist spends enormous time and energy getting into and out of remote areas, carrying a few large carving tools and mallet to accomplish much of the early shaping. He hints at the vast reductions of his work, noting a piece that started out weighing nearly 475 pounds, and ending up as a 25 pound sculpture 800 hours later. The only tools mentioned are the two extremes of a 30" bow saw and 1500 grit finishing paper, yet the works silently bear witness to the author's mastery of every tool in his kit. White does note that, as the artist, he too is only the tool of the inspiration and artist that is behind the work, a humble admission that he would be nothing without his God to guide his hand and shape the vision in his mind.
White has an educational background in wildlife biology and human anatomy. Both serve him well as he presents faces of women in pain, Indians suffering silently, betrayed at the hands of the government, and the elderly. His birds swirl, rise, and take wing on silent unseen currents, supported only by thin spirals of wood that touch them lightly and evaporate in the air. His fish shimmer and flex as only animals that are fully supported by the water around them can twist and flow with the tides. If there is a common element among the pieces displayed, it is in the sensual curving bits of wood that flow in, around, and among the various parts of the carving, forming recognizable forms, only to flow once again into a curve that draws your eye elsewhere within the carving.
For the reader who does not want to listen to someone discussing their religion in intimate detail, this book is still worth examining to see what can be done with old twisted roots and tree trunks. For the person who recognizes that all of lifes experiences come together for an artist to create their work, this book is highly recommended reading. And for the Christian who is familiar with the scripture quoted, and understands the depth of the words and feelings in each piece, this book will be a revelation of faith, art, and life all brought together into a magnificent study of years of one man's walk in faith.
Vic Hamburger is a carver from Westborough, MA, a member of New England Wood Carvers (NEWC), and a frequent contributor to WOM. You may contact Vic at email@example.com
Photos from PARABLES: Wood Sculptures used with the kind permission of Fox Chapel Publishing.