17 March 2018
This year I had the distinct honour, and great pleasure, in being asked to be a judge at the Canadian National Wildlife Carving Championship, an annual event I always look forward to attending as a lover of this art form (and that is what it is), and as a collector, so to be a judge was a rare and much-appreciated privilege.
The Grand Valley Woodcarvers Club is a primary organizer of the event and deserves much credit.
I owe a great debt of gratitude to Peter McLaren for asking me to take part, to Lyn Burnett for her superb organizational job, but most of all to Jeff Krete, ( www.facebook.com/JeffKretewildfowlart; www.legendarywings.ca) a five-time world champion carver, and to Jason Lucio (www.jasonlucioart.com; www.facebook.com/JasonLucioArt), a three-time world champion, with whom I formed one of the judging teams, for their great kindness and willingness to explain the myriad nuances of what makes a good carving, and the techniques, thought processes and design decisions that go into it. I saw carvings in a way I never saw them before; my astonishment at the creative forces behind a carving grew exponentially. I have little doubt that my meagre contribution in terms of ornithological knowledge was insignificant compared with the expert assessments of these world class artists.
The show was opened by the Mayor of Waterloo, Dave Jaworsky, with suitable words of encouragement.
We were judges in various categories and skill levels, beginning with the Master Class.
One of the pieces in our first group was this male Belted Kingfisher, perched on a branch, draped in an epiphyte looking down on the water, where Yellow Perch were hiding beneath aquatic vegetation and submerged logs.
In the same grouping was this female Green-winged Teal, carved and painted to perfection.
I should mention here that sometimes it was relatively easy to narrow the choices down to three finalists, but then selecting between the final three was much more difficult. I relied heavily on Rick and Jason to guide me through these final steps, knowing that the characters between first and third place were both subjective and subtle. I am sure that in some cases if the winner could be assigned a score of 100, second was 99.9 and third was 99.8. It was sometimes that close.
African Pygmy Falcon was the subject for one of the Purchase Awards and there were several carvings of this beautiful, diminutive little bird that I have had the pleasure of seeing in both South Africa and Ethiopia.
This one was in our group, characteristically perched among the sharp thorns of an Acacia, and as you can see we accorded it first place. The red sticker indicates first, blue second, yellow third and green honourable mention. Once the judging has been completed appropriate name tags are added, with the names of the species and the artist.
Here are some of the other renditions of African Pygmy Falcon.
We had to judge a group of carvings in which Jeff had an entry so he had to excuse himself from participating. A substitute judge was added to our crew and I say with pleasure that we unanimously came to the conclusion that Jeff's rendition of a Griffon Vulture high above a carcass on the African savanna was the clear winner.
Look how Jeff has given the perception of the height of the bird descending from the sky, by minimizing the size of the zebra and presenting it in a muted way so as not to draw attention away from the bird.
The details in the wing were quite remarkable to me, where moulted feathers are shown, with some positions already showing emergent new plumes. The margins were emarginated in classic vulture fashion; I swear that if that bird had flown off the wire it would not have surprised me!
The detail on the underside was completed with the same precision and attention to detail as the upper surface.
Was I biased because I knew it was Jeff's work? I don't think so, and the verdict was unanimous in any event. And Jeff would have only wanted a totally honest approach from all of us.
Just before lunch we did some judging in the Interpretative Class, where there is a very wide range of styles, and evaluating one piece against another is highly subjective and far from easy.
A fine lunch of soup and wraps was provided and a lively discussion took place around the table. As an "outsider" it was fascinating to hear the shop talk of carvers and competitors.
By the time we returned from our lunch break the public was starting to arrive in increasing numbers.
A female Belted Kingfisher was the subject for another Purchase Award.
As was a miniature Northern Cardinal.
Working decoys have a long and storied tradition, and it is probably in these utilitarian objects that decorative carving originated. These modern working decoys must have a keel and be able to float and self-right from any position to qualify for the competition.
Here is part of one group of Intermediate Class carvings we had to judge.
Looking at these Killdeers, one gets the impression that perhaps these carvers all took the same class!
I found this portrayal of an Elf Owl especially appealing.
Don't forget that every element has to be carved; look how well the artist has rendered the effect of insects or caterpillars feeding on the leaves.
A Northern Saw-whet Owl is guaranteed to earn the approbation of everyone!
And I thought this approach to presenting an Eastern Screech Owl was bold and creative.
As you can see we awarded it second place in its category.
After our judging I walked around and chatted to various friends and acquaintances who had come to the show, and took a few more miscellaneous photographs of carvings that caught my eye.
From Novice to Master Class, from the most humble beginner to a world class artist, all of these carvers deserve our respect and admiration for their commitment to their craft, and the continuation and enhancement of what is still primarily a North American art form.
Long may it continue.