Dr. Gary Carver’s trio of passions—woodcarving, the American chestnut tree and birds—fit together like a puzzle.
A retired physicist, he incorporates his extensive knowledge of trees and woods into a bird carving art and shares a 60-acre property with his wife, eight exotic cockatoos and a blue and gold macaw.
Carver is active in several local art and birding groups, and he serves on The American Chestnut Foundation Board of Directors, whose efforts focus on restoring the American chestnut tree to its native range in the Appalachian hardwood forest.
Carver grew up in the projects of Brooklyn along with three brothers and a sister never feeling he was “underprivileged.” Mentioning an article in a Frederick newspaper about a program called Books for Kids, he recalled that one of his teachers came to visit his home and said he’d never seen one with so many books. Carver credits his parents and knows that this made a difference in supporting his education. The siblings played interesting and inventive games, drew and visited museums. They once had a goal to ride in the front car of a train in every subway line in New York.
“We had lots of energy and imaginative play!” he recalled.
Wood shop was an early love that blossomed through summers at camp when he was in junior high school. He went on to become a camp counselor, helping others to make jewelry and lamps at first, and then furniture, even though he “enjoyed free-form carving much more.” He had a love for trees as well, and this grew when one of his teachers taught him to identify species during walks in the woods.
“I was always a loner,” Carver said, “and I did my own thing.”
He attended Stuyvesant, a special math and science high school, and one year was the only student to achieve 100 percent on the physics Regents exam. He stressed that science and art share creative facets. He became fascinated with physics in high school when studying the history of the periodic table. “It was amazing—it all fit together and interacted,” he explained. This turned him on to science and, with physics being the most fundamental, that is what he pursued, earning his Ph.D. and going on to work in scientific research and technical management.
After spending some summers working at the Naval Surface Warfare Center in White Oak, he was offered a position in a graduate training program and moved in Maryland. He took a one- year sabbatical to the University of Oxford in England. While there, his wife fell in love with a cockatoo and they brought their first one back with them on the QE II. Their interest grew as they joined a birding club and rescued several cockatoos.
“This is the reason that I only carve birds,” Carver said. “There is a lot of exactness in science, but when I carve, I don’t use specific measurements—I carve free form and calculate by eye—that’s the attraction.”
He carved as a hobby and took it up full-time following retirement, creating a portfolio and entering shows. His basement workshop is chock full of wood and dust from use of rotary tools.
The cockatoo sanctuary is adjacent to his studio, and he can see and hear the birds while working. As CarversCarvings, he creates stylized or interpretive carvings of birds, demonstrating the form and flow of the shape and warmth and other qualities of the wood. He strives to retain the natural grain patterns and properties of each particular piece of natural recycled wood and forms it into bird shapes.
“Wood was once alive. It is not like glass or ceramic. I am bringing a part of the tree back to life,” he said.
Carver feels he is doing his part to preserve and rejuvenate the living tree and historical nature of the vintage woods. These provide inspiration and impetus to carry on his art. “My goal is to bring out the beauty of the wood,” he added.
He has an intense desire to educate—to show the heritage of the wood. He wants others to understand and connect with the living part of the wood and transmits this through each carving that shows the origin and natural phenomena of the wood, its particular features, grains, spalting (wood coloration caused by fungi), burls (rounded or knotty growths) and checks (cracks or perceived “defects”). “These provide continuity,” he explained. “They bring back to life aspects of the tree.”
He does not paint any of his carvings and will do little to correct or override the natural characteristics of the wood. His favorite wood for carving is that of the American chestnut tree. Through his work with The American Chestnut Foundation, he is active in the breeding program and is called to authenticate any suspected finding of American chestnut in Maryland. The tree was the most common one in the East before being decimated by a fungus about 100 years ago.
Carver has exhibited at many festivals in the area—Sugarloaf, Schifferstadt, Frederick Festival of the Arts, the Delaplaine (where his pieces are available in the gift shop) and Mountain Heritage and The Woods in West Virginia. He feels he does best in shows where there is a required entrance fee and attendees have a dedicated interest in the art.
Carver acknowledges that there have been peaks and valleys in his career, but said, “It’s up now and staying there! I’m having a ball—so many projects.”
You can meet him and see his work at the Delaplaine Art & Crafts Expo Holiday Artists’ Market on Saturday, Dec. 7 and in the Frederick County Art Association Members Exhibit, running Jan. 4 to 26, 2020.