When I visited Jason at his home in Bothwell, ON he told me that back then he was a shy young kid, and was intimidated by the fact that he would have to go up onto the stage to accept his award and get used to the attention that followed his success. He has since gone on to have a highly successful career as a wood carver as we will explore in this piece.
Jason revealed that when he was young his father was a constant source of encouragement and urged him to exploit the talent he was already exhibiting. It seems to me that so many parents instruct their children to get a "real job" and pursue music, or writing, or weaving,....... or wood carving as a hobby. Jason's father saw the joy his son derived from creating works of great beauty, and invested in equipment for him, and encouraged him to try to make his way in life doing what he loved to do most. I have never met Jason's father but he must be a rare man indeed, a visionary and a remarkable parent.
As proof of a father's faith in his son, Jason has gone on to win "Best in World" twice. That phrase means exactly what it says, best in the entire world, in every category in the competition.
Aside from the recognition, the monetary award, and the enhanced commercial desirability of the winning piece, a commemorative ring is issued to the champion carver.
As Jason points out, he has two daughters and each will ultimately receive one of these rings, unique to world champion carvers.
Jason has also won second in the world four times and third in the world once - and in recent years has not even competed!
The wood most favoured by carvers, especially for decorative pieces, is a species of tupelo, a tree most closely associated with the swamp margins and seasonally flooded bottomlands of the southern United States. It is soft and responds well to contouring and fine detail. It is not inexpensive and the block shown below cost approximately $600 in Canadian funds.
One of the principal dealers in tupelo goes to the World Championships every year and takes customers' orders with him, and Jason was able to arrange with a friend of his to have it brought back in a pickup truck; otherwise there would have been a hefty freight charge in addition to the cost of the wood.
For this reason, carvers very carefully plan the best use of their wood, minimizing wastage. The head of a life-size duck, for example, is often made as a separate piece to avoid the excessive waste that carving from a single piece would entail. Small pieces are always saved for possible future use.
Jason kindly showed me exactly how he carves and how he contours and burns feathers using a variety of bits, generally starting out with large bits and moving to ever smaller bits as fine detail work is involved.
It was impressive to watch the confidence with which he "attacks" a piece of wood and how his steady hand and artistic eye produce curves and pleasing lines from a rectilinear block of wood. The transformation occurring before my eyes was remarkable.
Jason always creates his own plans, and uses skins and taxidermy to help him to get the right "jizz" of the bird, and for colour fidelity.
Let us look at just three of Jason's finished works.
Firstly, I have little doubt that this Virginia Rail will leave you gasping. Jason has captured the living qualities of the bird so well, that you almost expect it to walk right off the log.
The colours, are exquisitely rendered, and applied with hand brushes and air brushes; but you are never able to tell which parts have been air brushed, so skillfully is the work completed. Everything about this piece captures the bird in life.
Jason is always striving to present his subjects in non stereotypical ways - interesting poses, birds engaged in lifestyle activities, appealing landscape features and subtle nuances.
The following two pieces show us the chain of events in the natural world in all its heart-stopping drama. This is the raw stuff of daily survival, brutal in its own way, yet revealed here as the wonderful primal force that is at the core of much of our love of and respect for nature in all its guises.
The American Kestrel perched on a rocky outcrop has captured a rodent and even the indent of the talons of the bird are shown. It is in every way a gripping portrayal of the role of predator and prey, on an incredibly interesting substrate, which in itself contributes immeasurably to the portrayal of the bird. I find this a very compelling work indeed.
It must be remembered that the artist has to create every component of the work and Jason recounted to me a humorous anecdote about how he came up with the material for the whiskers on the mouse. He had tried the bristles of brooms and brushes, and other strands he was able to locate, but nothing quite worked. At the time he had a Black Labrador dog who was sitting at his feet while he worked. Jason glanced down and saw the solution to his dilemma. A little of the dog's whiskers fit the bill perfectly!
The portrayal of a Sharp-shinned Hawk below was for me the most fabulous piece in a series of nothing but fabulous pieces.
How one arrives at a "favourite" work I am not quite sure, but this magnificent oeuvre did it for me. I swear that if I turned and looked at something else and then came back to the hawk I could have been convinced that a Sharp-shin had just flown into the room.
Every single component of this work conveys perfection and I found it particularly appropriate that Jason had used a Red-breasted Nuthatch to convey the predator/prey relationship of life in the wild. I am often struck that if a prey animal is something generally reviled by people, a snake for example, there is approval for the action of the captor, but disapprobation if it is delicate and pretty. A raptor seeking food, however, makes no distinction between cute and not cute, and a nuthatch is fair game, and it illustrates the point that life in the wild is a constant struggle for survival.
Jason's works are in demand the world over and routinely sell for thousands of dollars.
In addition to his decorative carvings, Jason creates gunning decoys such as those shown in his hands in the first picture above, and also he is the artist behind a whole range of commercial decoys sold in sporting goods stores.
A plan is created and Jason produces the bird in wood. This is then sent away to have a resin mould made. That mould is then sent to China, both unpainted and painted (to show exactly how the finished product should look), where the decoy is mass produced and shipped back to North America for retail sales.
These decoys are created in a whole range of natural postures and are clearly superior to the run of the mill stereotypical dross so often seen.
Jason is also in demand as a teacher and has conducted classes as far away as Victoria, British Columbia and Calgary, Alberta.
I urge you to check out Jason's website at http://www.jasonlucioart.com/ and his Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/JasonLucioArt.
Let me make a final point about the fine art of wood carving - and make no mistake, that is what it is - when you acquire a piece it is absolutely unique and there can never be any reproduction of it. I own quite a few high quality original paintings, but with today's techniques to produce a set of numbered prints, supervised by the artist to ensure technical and visual integrity, and signed by the artist, the original and the prints can become virtually indistinguishable. A facsimile of one of Jason's carvings will never greet you in somebody else's home. It is a one and only every time.
And so I present to you this amazing artist, creator of an art form I have come to admire so much in recent years. a master at everything he does, a maestro in every way. But above all a kind and gentle man, a person who gave freely of his time to me, welcomed me into his home, and shared his creative passion with me. Thank you, Jason. I am forever in your debt.