THE ARTISTS: Harry Engelman, wildlife artist
What is your career and your current job title? Up to six years ago, I was teaching high school and adult art education. Now I consider myself a wildlife artist specializing in wood carvings.
Describe in a sentence or two your art. The art of the wooden bird is a unique art form to North America. It evolved from simple carvings of ducks known as decoys. They were used to “decoy” the live bird within shooting range by the hunter. I now carve and paint the birds as an art form, never to be used as a hunting tool.
How long have you been working in this discipline? I have been carving birds for 18 years.
Why do you do it? I love the woodworking process, especially carving with a knife. It is a very satisfying endeavor, and to be able to give the bird its life by paint has many rewards.
What do you hope to accomplish? In order to accomplish all that I have within myself, it would take at least three or more lifetimes. So I take it one day at a time and do the best that I can at that particular moment, knowing that I am growing all the time.
Do you create your art with an exact message you want the viewer to receive? The art form should depict a particular bird; you should be able to tell the species at a glance. I try and go beyond “the bird” by composing the bird in an interesting pose and environment. Giving the bird a little attitude gives it life and something the viewer can relate to.
Where do you want to be with your art, in terms of part-time versus full-time status, art positions and where your works are seen? Being a retired part-time carver is a full-time job. I work at my leisure in between taking care of our five acres. My wife and I work together making country crafts as well as the carvings. We show and sell our work at craft shows throughout Northern California and Nevada. I show and compete at the Pacific Flyway Decoy Associations Wildlife Art Show in Sacramento. The show is in June and is the second oldest Wildlife Art Show in the United States, coming up to its 33rd year. I happen to be the current show president.
What kind of special training did you take? I received a B.A. from San Jose State in traditional sculpture. Graduate work in education got me a job teaching art in the high school system. I learned very early that to be able to survive, I had to have a wide knowledge of many art techniques. All of the techniques focused in bird-making.
What’s your favorite part of your endeavors? I love to put the carving knife to the wood, to feel the cut and to be able to control the form.
What’s your least favorite part of your endeavors? When sanding is necessary, I dislike the drudgery.
How many hours a day or, if more appropriate, a week do you spend on your work? I spend about four to six hours a day, seven days a week. There are no days off when you are retired and working for yourself.
Do you consider it hard work and could anyone do it? No work is hard when you love what you are doing and are doing it well. Everyone can learn to do what I do. We all have a certain amount of skill within ourselves and it just takes a special person or situation to bring it out.
Harry Engelman will have his art displayed today, Saturday and Sunday at the juried 18th annual Country Christmas Fair at the Nevada County Fairgrounds (11228 McCourtney Road, Grass Valley). Five buildings will be filled with art; Engelman’s art will be in the Main Street Center. Viewing hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. all three days. Admission is $3 for adults and free for children under 12. Call 273-6217 for more information.
“The Artists” appears each Friday. To suggest a person to be profiled, call The Union newsroom at 273-9561.
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