Creative Carver: Spencer Tinkham
This week we explore young artists taking traditional art forms to a new level. Our Curate 757 local artist is 25-year-old wood sculptor Spencer Tinkham of Norfolk. See how he brings a fresh sensibility to the ancient medium of wood working. Most of his pieces are constructed entirely out of materials that are salvaged along bay and river shorelines.
- Look at that.
That is sweet.
I like that a lot.
My name is Spencer Tinkham, I'm 25 years old.
I'm a professional wood sculptor.
♪ We're just getting started.
- I first started wood carving when
I was about eight years old.
I just started carving with a little pocket knife,
sitting on the back porch.
I started to carve the birds and fish that I saw around me.
I'm the artist behind Tinkham Decoys and Folk Art.
Folk art is kind of hard to describe.
It's kind of like an art that's not really modern art.
It's a little bit more primitive.
It has kind of more of an aged finished on it,
and I think that goes perfectly with these aged woods
that I'm starting out with.
I'm self taught.
I learn through trial and error.
It's the really unforgiving medium.
All the failures made me want to figure out how to
make them into a complete piece the first time.
I started out mainly focusing on duck decoys,
but I've shifted a lot more towards folk art sculptures,
and different birds, owls, I do a little bit of everything.
Fish are pretty fun.
I definitely give a lot of human
characteristics to my pieces.
People can relate to it, like a smile,
wide eyes or screaming.
Inspiration, it just, it's all around me.
Whenever I'm outside I guess my natural habitat.
This is actually an extinct bird.
This is a passenger pigeon, inspired,
ironically from an old poster that sold shotgun shells.
This is multiple pieces.
The wings are actually old sheet metal from the
side of a chicken coop.
Not entirely out of wood, but I use some metals.
And this is lead, little weights that
are used to balance tires.
And so you melt it to make feet.
I then paint over it and seel it so that it's not a hazard.
My little pile out here.
I got some cooper.
Such a cool natural color.
I'm always looking for materials in the river, the marshes.
It's part of the hunt.
It's almost like finding treasure.
Then I get ideas and inspirations,
and then once I get to work I don't want to stop.
All wood can be carved.
If it has a good surface, has a good shape,
I just go with it.
To me it's right there, it's right there on the surface.
Little sketches trying to work out the ideas.
The biggest knife I could possibly use,
and then work down from there.
The more I can study art, the easier it is to come up
with a way to tie my materials together.
This is the beginning.
This is where it all started, right here.
This was given to me by my grandfather on my dad's side,
when I was eight years old.
Kind of like the wand in Harry Potter, ya know.
This is, this is what you're given,
and every error is a learning process.
Find a way to get better.
If I never got this, I would have probably never really
realized that passion or that freedom.
A lot of people don't find it at all.
He passed away from cancer.
So, this is something that I did to heal,
and he only saw the very first piece that I made.
He said keep it up and keep working harder,
and make the next one better, and I'm just so thankful
for breakin' the rules and givin' a young kid a knife,
and not freaking out when I had to put a band-aid on
a finger, and so my grandfather kind of planted the seed,
and my family kind of helped me grow.
I always treated this as a side job.
My wife encouraged me to pursue this as a full time career.
She's a nurse so if I ever cut off a finger,
she knows what to do and where to take me.
I'm really fortunate to have a family that is
passionate about my work.
- [Denise Tinkham] We knew nothing about carving or
anything when we first started.
Instead of goin' and sittin' at the baseball game,
we went to the shows and traveled around.
The answers always no unless you try,
and he tried.
- Is there anything else I can do for you?
For my grandfather, pop, tool safety, shop safety,
he's always looking for something new to help my process.
- Brass bristle wire brushes for you to use in your work.
He often times has the image of the creation in his mind,
and then translates it to a working, beautiful piece of art,
and I think that's a gift.
- So this piece is titled the Early Bird gets the Worm,
the Early Worm gets Eaten.
The woodpecker is made out of cedar that came from a
New York City parkway pole.
The eyes are made out of beads that I found in a dumpster.
The worm is threaded rod.
I thought, ya know, the knot would be really cool
to showcase the baby birds coming out of it.
That's kind of how that piece developed.
I really want my work to be talked about,
not just for what it is, but from what it came from.
There's just so much freedom and beauty outside,
and I really hope that people stop to see it,
and make efforts to keep the environment clean
so that it can continue to be healthy,
and spend time to understand what's around them.