Wednesday, April 24, 2002

What kind of wood do you use to carve a bass?

On the plane yesterday, I sat next to a woman from upper Michigan. She was flying baby-sit for her grandchildren in Providence while her son and daughter-in-law went to a conference. She told me about life up there, living in a remote place. They live on twenty acres, on a lake, an hour from the nearest city. She talked about catching and canning king salmon, the family sheet-metal business, hunting whitetail deer, and the travails of dealing with snow that keeps accumulating all season long, every season. It was nice to hear her thoughts on upper-Midwest rural life. I've been acquainted with the Northern New England version of rural living, but the she spoke of a different expression of similar pace, values, and style.

She went on to tell me how that her husband's retirement is very active, as he's become an accomplished woodcarver. He specializes in carving fish replicas. Of course it wasn't the sort of fish replica that first came to my music-reference-tuned mind - these end up looking like mounted fish. She explained that the fish are made from measurements of actual individual fish. They'll catch a fish, freeze it, then use the frozen fish as a model for the carving. (I suppose that they must need to keep returning to the freezer for subsequent measurements.) The result is very realistic, and is finished with multiple airbrushed coats of lacquer to give a very lifelike look.

They go to woodcarving shows, and have sold many carvings, and won awards. He's carved salmon, bass, trout and other fish. Some of these carvings have sold for as much as $800! Because my brother-in-law is friends with renowned woodcarver Armand LaMontagne, whose amazing wooden sculptures gave me an appreciation for well carved wood, I had a good deal of interest in the details of how these fish carvings were done. I realize that these fish aren't exactly up to the level of the $250,000 Larry Bird sculpture and others that La Montagne has done, but nonetheless, these fish are very well crafted. I didn't realize that carved realistic fish actually occupy a certain well-followed niche in the craft world. I asked her about the production steps, materials, and methods. It was fascinating, and obviously a labor of love. So what kind of wood to you use to carve a bass? You guessed it.


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