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Songbird Carving (Posted On: Monday, January 16, 2006)

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Every once in a while you come across something that is so beautiful, you find yourself enamored, amazed and wanting to know everything you can about it. That’s the way I felt when I first saw a songbird carving by David Kergan.

My husband and I were dinner guests at our friends, Bill and Becky Wall's house at the beginning of December. Bill and Becky proudly showed off their various collections of different art pieces as they gave me a tour of their recently renovated and redecorated home. One piece in particular struck me as being completely incredible, and they told me it was a carving done by a local artist named David Kergan. The carving was of a male and a female Cardinal and was so beautiful and realistic that I found myself asking more and more questions about the work and David. Bill went on to rave about this David character and I was compelled to meet him and do an article on his work.

David had an interesting start into the world of woodcarving. The catalyst was a motorcycle accident when he was 16 years old that left him unable to walk for a few years. He grew bored of watching TV and reading books. On a trip to the Wye Marsh Woodcarving Competition he bought a woodcarving kit for a Blue Jay. The kit contained a block of wood, plans, a knife and a set of glass eyes. He spent the next couple of months sitting outside in the sun and whittled away. The Blue Jay was sanded smooth, but without detail or finish where it sat on a shelf for a few years…he was stuck on how to get the piece to the next level of detail, a little insecure he admits. Then Dave was flipping through channels on TV one day and came across a program on woodcarving. After that, “the pieces sort of fell into place” and the Blue Jay was finished.

David does 2 types of carving, about half of the pieces are detailed and realistic, the other half smooth stylized carvings that focus on shape.

Most of Dave's carvings are of songbirds and fish and when asked about why songbirds, his answer is really clear…he is “inspired by the simplistic nature of birds. They are designed to fly and they do it so well. They don’t pretend to be something they’re not.”

The inspiration for his projects is always there, however, the artistic urge comes and goes. This is one of the reasons that Dave does only commissioned pieces, and that said, he will only do commissioned pieces that have a special meaning for his customers, like a birthday present or an anniversary gift. He has been approached by galleries and art speculators in the past and has chosen not to go that route. He does not like the pressure of having to finish “on a deadline”, because then the creative process becomes forced. Each piece is a huge commitment of time…approximately 300 hours from start to finish.

The process is huge and very in-depth so I’m just giving you the highlights. The first step is to pick the subject matter, then Dave finds reference material, usually already published plans that give a side and back view template to work from. Next, it’s wood selection. From there it’s a rough cut out on a band saw. Once the rough shape is cut, he plans the feather groups, the tail and the head. From that point on it’s a personal choice…how the bird speaks to him guides him in the next steps of the process, relieving wood to define the feathers. He describes the process as “organized chaos…nothing in nature is perfect and he does not want the bird to look like a car off the showroom floor”. The flight feathers or the ‘hard feathers and tail’ are the most labour intensive. He calls these the “cross eyed feathers” because he can only work on them for 2 to 3 hours at a time. Some of them have as many as 130 feather barbs per inch. Then he moves on to the soft feather groups. The piece is then sanded smooth, because smooth wood takes detailing better than rough wood. He details the hard feathers with a cool running wood burning tool with a very fine tip. The soft feathers are detailed with a textured stones.

The head is done in very much the same way with the addition of planning the eye channels and the beak or bill. He coats the beak with superglue to give it strength in case it is accidentally dropped or knocked over. The eyelids are formed with epoxy putty and the eyes are made of glass. Next it’s the leg placement and sockets. The feet are made with brass rods and each toe is individually soldered.

Once the bird is completed, he then gives it a couple of coats of sealer and paints it using acrylics and an airbrush tool. Each bird is truly unique and a labour of love…he doesn’t keep track of the colour blends and when all is said and done he ends up charging out at about $1.00 per hour.

Last year Dave entered 3 carvings in the Canadian Wildlife Carving Championship as a Novice, being his first show. The competition ran for 3 days, on Friday, the carvings were entered, on Saturday the show was closed for judging and on Sunday he went in to the show to find a total of 6 ribbons, including 3 Best of Show ribbons on his pieces. He says he walked around stunned for about ½ an hour. How sweet is that?

Dave was born in Hamilton, Ontario and moved to Wasaga Beach in 1983. He now lives in Collingwood and runs Paulmac's Pet Food on First Street along with his mother Johanne and his wife Chris. If you visit Paulmac’s be sure to say hi to Mitchell, she’s a domesticated Black Tailed Texan Prairie Dog that responds to her name, like a dog would and loves to have her belly scratched.

Dave can be reached at Paulmac's Pet Food Store in Collingwood - 705.444.1930.

Submitted by: Julie Card


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