Carved Portraits

Toy Portraits were my bread and butter for 20 years. At first they were simple things –– some characteristic feature of the subject combined with an animal, a mechanism, or both, in a wooden toy. As my skills matured, the figures began to look like the people, in more elaborate scenes. Eventually mechanical animation gave way to a purely visual dynamic, and the pieces were less playful. I still do a few portrait commissions each year –– mechanical or otherwise. This selection represents some of the types, or those that photographed well. Click on the links to see blowups and/or other photos.

This Fool is articulated at the hips, shoulders, and neck. The result is he tends to fall on his face. You have to be careful what sort of magic you conjure up with this stuff. After I made the piece, I discovered the mudra The Fool makes says "I love you" in American Sign Language.

Portrait of a mountain-climbing conservationist. Rennie is another articulated caricature –– this time with hands which he can hang from that ledge by. I attempted to portray the California landscape he was working to preserve at the time. The whole piece is 3 foot tall, and hangs like a painting. All my carvings are composed of multi-colored hardwoods, so these are the natural wood colors.

This commission was for presentation at a publishing party. Arthur Golden wrote Memoirs of a Geisha, and my task was to turn him into his subject. To capture the lush fabrics of the kimono I dug out the most colorful figured woods in my bins. It was fun to put a mirror in the image, too.

Jim is in the family auction business, and is always poking about for a deal. When you work his tail, he eyes you up and down. That's a wad of cash in his hip pocket, and the Maine Antique Digest in his paw. One of my most effective animal portraits.

This gent is on the Board of Trustees at Maine College of the Atlantic, known for its marine studies programs. A mobile portrait, the humpback flips his tail and flippers, but the rider keeps his balance as the scene shifts. It was fun to deliver this one. The patron met me at Wiscasset airport, flying in from Chicago in his personal single-seater jet.

This couple lived all over the world during his career in the State Department. They spent some years in Vienna, hence the waltz. He was a U.S. Ambassador, but if you look carefully, you can see she is leading. The world, and the dancers, spin, as you turn a crank on the base. A double portrait for a 50th anniversary.

This piece was commissioned at the Maine Festival. The lady's husband asked "Can you do the penguin?," gesturing toward the crowd in the tent. I knew exactly which person he meant.

This caricature mobile spins his propeller and flaps his wings when you work the strings. He flew in a sunny window for some years, but kept disintegrating in the temperature swings. After the last repair job, he decided to fly in the shade.

For this piece all the grandchildren sat down with me and told me what images they associated with their grandmother. She apparently has a propensity for falling down, so when you turn the crank on this toy, Granny limps.

Sailing offshore after a storm, Weld had an exhausted bird of passage alight on his .. well.. extraordinary nose. Weld is a devotee of the fine arts, and I was commissioned to celebrate this landing in the style of an iconic Renaissance portrait. It hangs on the wall, and when you pull a handle at its base, the bird flaps its wings. Or used to, before the little rubber band in the rigging disintegrated. All art is ephemeral, no?

While we're talking about Weld. When he married Toni, she had me make this Flashing Nun as a wedding present from her to him. She had once been a nun –– but had gotten out of the habit.

In reply, he ordered up this Flashing Barrister (he's a lawyer). When I proposed certain elevations, he insisted on strictly legal briefs.

It's great fun when couples get into the act together. Here is a portrait of Arlene, crossed with a mole. She has her arms full with the family cat and cockateel (not to mention running Spindleworks and doing her own artwork). When you work the cat's tail, he claws at the bird.

The companion piece to Molene is Batty. Steve is a radiologist who loves bats. Maybe it's that animal radar. In any event this animal portrait can hang by his toes with his wings folded.

Here's a Gargoil Portrait of a talk-show host, with a microphone in hand. Forked tongue and all.

After Jim and Carol went to Bali, she commissioned a portrait in a Balanese motif. The village witch in those parts does her magic by waving a baby's diaper. Jim is in the banking business, so I replaced one symbolic rag with another. This witch is gesturing with the Wall Street Journal.

Speaking of bankers: this is a retirement piece for an officer of Lazard Frere. He's making his getaway from their offices at Rockefeller Center with a briefcase full of cash. I've replaced the building's Art Deco reliefs of Agriculture and Industry with Wall Street's bull and bear.

Portrait of a marathon runner who juggles the thousand and one things –– in this case emblems of her interests and concerns. The symbolism in this piece may have been a bit strong. You never can tell when you set out to do a portrait what will come through the work. I used to think I was a comic caricaturist, but I now realize I'm just a vehicle for the symbolic material to move through. Hopefully the result grows on you.

Here's another symbolic portrait, of a Gurdgeiffian Fool riding the Wheel. It rotates with the time. Over time one handlebar of the Fool's stash has broken off. Maybe that's about his journey on the Third Way.

This was supposed to be a joking portrait of a man's wife at home –– cooking barefoot and chatting on the phone. It proved to be one of the most dynamic pieces I ever made. She dances while she cooks and phones, and the Australian silky oak sweater she's wearing can make you itch.

Here's another caricature of a busy woman, in this case a jogging bird-watcher crossed with a hummingbird. Her wings flap when you work her backpack, and she can fly away from that flower. It's a lush lily with petals carved out of Brazillian lilac.

A corporate portrait of a shoe seller who likes to sail. Wynkin and Blynkin move over.

Claire and Bill buy and sell old books, and they commissioned this double portrait for their wedding anniversary. She is the storybook maiden fair, and he's her knight in shining armor. The piece folds together to make a big book –– inside of which they are kissing.

And then there are the Local Yokels. In the 80s I did a series of portraits picturing some of Bowdoinham's prize personages. For a while, when they saw me coming with a camera, the locals would try and get out of range. You can visit some of the Yokels here. The rest of them are posted in the Rogues Galleries.