Master of Burlwood Artistry
Artist Tom Murphy’s inspiration for wood sculpting manifested in 2001 after completing a cross-country trip on his motorcycle and coinciding with the end of a 30-year career as a telephone lineman or ‘human woodpecker,’ as the artist likes to say.
“Growing up in the foothills of the Catskill Mountains of New York State supplied my early connection to nature and its creatures,” says Murphy. ” Moving to the Pacific Northwest in the late seventies exposed me to a new variety of trees, mountains and wildlife.”
After visiting innumerable galleries across the nation, the artist discovered his current passion – creating wildlife out of natural wood. Carving burlwood with Manzanita root burl is a personal favorite. The sculpting process utilizes mostly power tools and involves a painstaking process of roughing out with small chainsaws and grinders, then progressing to air tools for the finished work. Final touches are done by hand. “I endeavor to create a subject or scene that captures a moment in time as naturally as possible,” shares Murphy. “Preserving and displaying the complexity and beauty of the wood grain is as important to me as portraying the essence of the wildlife I choose as the subject. Every sculpture is one-of-a-kind and reflects the unique properties of the burl.”
A bird lover, Murphy has won awards at the annual Coastal and South coast Carving Shows in Oregon.
Venturing to far-flung parts of the west to glean the wood for his craft, Murphy says, “Finding unique burlwood is part of my sculpting adventure. Manzanita, maple, madrone and myrtle are favorites. Black walnut, yew and apple are excellent solid woods for holding detail and the challenge is then to discover what shape and forms are possible and position the sculpture to best reveal the hidden character of the wood.”
Upon close examination of the raw wood product, Murphy points out areas the tree has produced using water, minerals and sunlight to build the colors and patterns that are finally revealed in depth by finishing oils at the end of the project.
Clearly an artist in love with his work, Murphy concludes by saying, “The colors of the wood are my palette. I enjoy the process of carving to different levels to achieve the color I desire for each part of the animal being portrayed. My sculptures are all unique and boast a large textural variety. They’re meant to be handled and touched as the wood invites.”