Sculptor Jim Wall takes his carving into the realm of impressionistic art
GRANVILLE — Wood is the medium in which he works, and carving is the method, but make no mistake about it, Jim Wall is a finely skilled artist.
He began carving ducks in the early 1990s with the late Charles Bray of Ottawa as his friend and mentor. One of the most valuable skills Bray taught Wall was how to use the wood itself to compliment the overall look of the piece. After carving ducks for many years, Wall was drawn to more stylized and abstract work.
“It was a big change to go from ducks to the abstract and impressionistic, but I wanted to do something different and branch out. I’ve found my niche,” Wall said.
Before his recent, award-winning abstract works are mentioned further, it should be known that Wall’s ducks aren’t simple decoy-type of carvings. They’re beautifully finished pieces with intricate and flowing details that are enhanced by the wood’s natural warmth and grain.
“A duck usually takes me about 40 hours to complete,” he said.
His noteworthy abstract sculpture, titled “Beyond the Reflection,” was inspired by an unusual reflection that was cast onto his wall.
He competed in three carving and art shows with it in 2018. He placed in the top three at an international show in Iowa; was awarded “Best Sculpture” at the Omni for the Arts show in Ottawa; and earned the “Best of Show” award at the Valley Carvers Association’s annual show held at Starved Rock State Park.
That he competed against hundreds of other pieces and sculptors and won is a testament to his talent with finding the beauty within a block of hardwood.
“I love the warmth of wood, that it’s touchable and that you don’t always know what to expect with it. Sometimes you have to work around what the wood wants and then figure out how to get there,” he said.
As Wall transitioned into his newer style of work, he received encouragement, advice and constructive critiques from Father Joseph Hyde, an art teacher at St. Bede Academy. Since finding his niche in the abstract, he’s gone on to create many pieces that are highly appealing in both in a visual and tactile sense.
However, he’s currently working on a piece that will blend birds with a flowing and stylized abstractness defined by the raw and multi-colored piece of wood from which they’re taking flight. He also often incorporates the wooden bases of his sculptures to compliment the overall effect of the winding, twisting and curving lines of the piece.
One of his most complex sculptures took roughly 100 hours to complete and is basically a hollowed-out cylinder. The complexity comes from the walls of the cylinder being comprised of a continually twisting and turning web that encourages you, as all his work does, to keep running your hands over it.
Wall works with a combination of power and hand tools and uses a number of different hardwoods because of an appreciation of the variety they offer. He has worked with cherry, walnut, Kentucky coffeewood, tulipwood, bloodwood, red elm, butternut, juniper and many more.
“You want a hardwood that’s difficult to sand because that means you’ll get a nice finish when you oil it,” he said.
A challenge of working with wood are the flaws and variations that Wall said can either be a good surprise or, in the worst cases, the end of the piece.
“Sometimes I’ll get frustrated with a piece and set it aside for a while and then come back to it later. Other times you hit a rotten spot you didn’t expect or find a blemish while finishing it. That’s tough after spending a lot of time on something,” he said.
When asked if there was a favorite work, Wall answered it was easiest to say the latest piece, but then said it was a sculpture he has made several times. Frequently given as a gift or a charitable donation, his “cross within a heart” works may be simpler than his more complex creations, but they’re still identifiably in his style.
However, it’s the satisfaction received through giving them as gifts, often at weddings, which has earned them a warm spot in his heart.
Wall also makes small prayer crosses that are also given as gifts. He credited their look to another carver, but they’re still relatable to his style and equally comforting to hold and handle.
Wall has taken his creativity and abstract style into the negative space. At first glance, two sculptures on his wall appear as abstract as any. Further inspection, along with a hint from Wall, reveals the empty space within their boundaries are faces in profile, the other a baby in the womb.
Asked if there was anything he didn’t like about working with wood, he was quick to answer.
“Absolutely the dust, no question. I spend as much time sanding as carving. It’s nice out in the shop, though, when the doors are open and there’s a breeze blowing through it. Then it’s not a problem,” he said.
His daughter, Aubrie, is herself an accomplished carver. If her skills continue to develop into the fine art status of her father’s work, there should be little doubt there will continue to be award-winning wood carvings coming from the Wall family for many years to come.