Circus Carvings at Shelburne Museum

Rick and Ellen VT Sept 2014 007

Circus Carvings at Shelburne Museum

Rick and Ellen VT Sept 2014 006Rick and Ellen VT Sept 2014 012

Every now and then you come across an example of woodcarving that is humbling for carvers of any level. Recently I had a chance to see the Circus Carvings at Shelburne Museum in Vermont, the home of some of the best examples of American Folk Carving in the world.

The first set of carvings depicts the Circus Big Top and was carved by Edgar Kirk (1891-1956). He dedicated more than 40 years of his life to recreating the excitement of Barnum and Bailey’s three ring circus. Over 3,500 carvings make up this extraordinary model.

The other work is the Circus Parade carved by Roy Arnold (1892-1976). He recreated the pomp and pageantry of the Barnum and Bailey parade bringing the Circus to town. Created in a one inch to one foot scale, the entire parade consists of thousands of figures. When it was exhibited it filled two sixteen-foot trucks, and took a crew of workers two complete days to set up the 525 foot model.

Both the examples were donated to the Shelburne Museum, and are housed in their own separate building. If you’re ever traveling through Vermont, take some time to check it out. It is truly inspiring.

Yellow-crowned Night Heron


I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw this bird walking along the beach on Sanibel Island in the middle of the day. It’s a Yellow-crowned Night Heron, a large nocturnal bird found deep in the marshes and mangrove swamps. It reminded me of what one of my favorite outdoor writers and philosophers Ernest Thompson Seton once said, if you sit still long enough something interesting will walk by. How right he was.

Seton was born August 14, 1860, and became an award winning wildlife illustrator and naturalist. In 1907 he made a 2,000 mile canoe trip through Northern Canada making the first accurate maps of this wilderness region.

As Chairman of the founding committee of the Boy Scouts of America, he wrote the first Boy Scout handbook. He promoted nature and the protection of wildlife until his death at the age of 86.


Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge

Montezuma Apr. 2014 017We heard Tundra Swans had been sighted at the Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge near Syracuse, NY. I’d always wanted to see them. So, on the weekend Ellen and I drove over.

On Saturday we saw hundreds of migrating ducks including two of my favorites, the Hooded Merganser and the Buffle-head. We even had to stop the car while Great Blue Herons crossed in front of us, but no swans.

That night we stayed in Seneca Falls, the town that Jimmy Stewart’s movie, It’s a Wonderful Life was based on.

The next day we tried again, but still couldn’t fine Tundra Swans. We saw Bald Eagles and Red-tailed Hawks soaring overhead, while Northern Shovellers  and American Widgeons dabbled in the marsh.

We talked with some people who had heard reports of Tundra Swans not far away. We drove around the countryside on the back roads searching for the elusive birds. Just as we were about to head back home we came around a bend in the road and there they were! Hundreds of Tundra Swans swimming and feeding in a flooded field. Montezuma Apr. 2014 026

In two days we also saw Double-crested Cormorant, Mallards, Ring-necked Ducks, Ring-billed Gulls, Canada Geese, Blue-winged Teals, Nesting Ospreys, Green-winged Teals, Pied-billed Grebes, Ravens, Ruddy Ducks, Tree Swallows, Song Sparrows, Turkey Vultures, Pileated Woodpeckers, Mourning Doves, and Northern Pintails. Plenty of material for more carvings. To plan a visit go to:

Susan in Florida sent this video of her father’s woodcarvings. Bob Graves has been carving for years and I thought you’d enjoy seeing the variety he’s made. This video is only the tip of the iceberg.

It’s always a pleasure to see the enjoyment people get from woodcarving.

Adirondack Carousel


Adirondack Carousel Bobcat

Adirondack Carousel Bobcat

Recently I had the opportunity to visit the Adirondack Carousel in Saranac Lake. It’s a full-sized carousel with twenty-four hand-carved animals to ride on. These were created by different woodcarvers and each one is a unique work of art. There is an Eagle, Loon, Otter, Bear, Trout, Snowshoe Hare and many others; all beautifully carved and painted in the finest carousel tradition. If you get a chance visit the Carousel. They are open year-round, but check the website for hours and directions:

Jim Sprankle’s Carvings at Ding Darling

Sprankle Carvings at Ding Darling

Jim Sprankle began carving in 1968, and is considered one of the finest wildlife woodcarvers in the world. His work appears in private collections and museums in Europe, Japan, and North America. He is the author of several books, and has been featured in dozens of magazine articles.

A native of LaFayette Indiana, Jim was a professional baseball player, pitching for the Brooklyn Dodgers and the Cincinnati Reds, before starting his carving career. Two years ago Jim donated his collection of 43 hand-carved decoys to the J.N. “Ding” Darling Education Center on Sanibel Island, Florida.

It’s always a pleasure talking with Jim. He’s a true gentleman and an artist; always willing to share his knowledge with others.

Learn more about Jim on his website:

Great EgretOsprey Nest

A Great Egret and an Osprey nest. Just two of the beautiful birds you can see at the Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge on Sanibel Island in Florida.

Ding Darling Wildlife Refuge

Rick at Ding Darling smallerI recently had the good fortune to visit the Ding Darling Wildlife Refuge on Sanibel Island in Florida. It’s a 5,200 acre wilderness refuge famous for its spectacular migratory bird populations, and encloses the largest surviving mangrove ecosystem in the country. It is named after J. Norwood “Ding” Darling a political cartoonist who spearheaded conservation efforts in America in the early 20th Century.

Here are a few of the birds I saw on our visit. The Visitors’ Center houses an amazing collection of wildlife woodcarvings by the legendary Jim Sprankle like this life-size Anhinga.Sprankle Anhinga I had the pleasure of talking with Jim, and will tell you more about his carvings next time.

David Esterly Woodcarving Exhibit


David Esterly

Fire in the royal palace, a masterwork destroyed, and the skills required to replace it lost in the mists of history. Thus began the challenging woodcarving life of David Esterly. An American with degrees from Harvard and Cambridge, he became fascinated with the work of 17th Century woodcarver Grinling Gibbons after he saw his first piece behind the altar of St. James Church in London.

He decided to write a book about the famous carver, but felt the need to experience handling the tools and carving for himself. This began a self-taught career spanning four decades of extraordinary work. Easterly’s one man show, the Art of Subtraction is currently on display at Munson Williams Proctor Arts Institute in Utica, NY through March 10, 2013.

Esterly’s work has been featured in The Wall Street Journal, National Public Radio, and called, “some of the most astonishing work being done in wood today.” by Fine Woodworking Magazine.

Ferns and Foliage in Progress

His recent book, The Lost Carving, a Journey to the Heart of Making, describes his experiences recreating the famous carving by Grinling Gibbons lost in a fire at Hampton Court.

Esterly uses 130 different gouges and prefers English lime wood, similar to American basswood but finer grained, to carve paper thin ornamental foliage and flower petals. For centuries it was believed that no one could duplicate the skillful execution of the Gibbons style, but Esterly does it with a flourish.

Florals in Vase

I first became of aware of Esterly’s carving in the 1980’s. I hoped to ask him to do a guest appearance on my PBS woodcarving show, but at the time he was carving in England. He continues to work in his studio in Upstate New York creating carvings that take a year or more to complete and command six-figure prices. If you get the chance visit his show in Utica, or see his work at