20 Minutes with Lona Hymas-Smith archive

Friday 2 September 2011

Woodcarving catches up with the very talented American wildlife carver, Lona Hymas-Smith

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When did you start to carve?

In 1992 and at the age of 31, I carved my first fish from a pine board using a hammer, chisel, rasp, and sandpaper. Now it seems so crude and hideous but at the time, my brother-in-law took one look at it and exclaimed, "I think you could sell these."Then he proceeded to bribe all his friends into buying those first ones! It's been an ongoing evolution of intense, self-taught study and learning ever since.

What made you continue carving?

Probably the main reason is that I was able to sell what I carved and thereby, fully support my own new business. However, the deeper drive was that I was gaining such an understanding and oneness with nature, to feel such a connection. I still feel the thrill and challenge of each and every new piece.

What inspires you when you carve?

I find inspiration in every living thing. There is no greater example of wisdom than nature. I can spend sometimes months researching every detail of the life of a fish or bird - how it thinks, what it eats, why it behaves in a certain way and what makes it unique. I will run the risk of you thinking I'm half a bubble of plumb and admit to almost morphing into that creature - in other words, I really can fly with my birds and swim with my fish!

What are you currently working on?

I'm in the carving stage of a male barn owl with a 1015mm wingspan in full flight. This is the most challenging carving to date in my career - my first barn owl and first bird with fully open wings, and will be mounted from the tip of one primary flight feather. Now

I understand why these guys fly into car windshields! Who wouldn't find swooping weightlessly like that a bit distracting?

Which tool wouldn't you be without and why?

My hands and my eyes are the most valuable tools that I possess. I could somehow manage without anything else. However, I would have to say that my high-speed surgical rotary power grinder made by the Gesswein company, ranks right up there with the first two. It's a precision instrument used in surgery, dentistry, and jewellery making, and sounds like some nightmare in the dentist chair! It has become an extension of my fingers and as much a part of

my body.

What is your preferred style of carving?

It's more of an obsession than a preference that I call "illusionary realism" - ultra detail to fool the observer into believing it is the real thing, instead of wood and some paint. And the style of carving that suits this best is power carving. It fits with my rather impatient patience. I seldom use knives or chisels - they prove way too dangerous. I get wounded chopping celery!

My quiver of tools consists of everything from a chainsaw, down to needle files and diamond bits requiring a magnifying headset to work with.

What do you think has been your biggest carving achievement?

That is difficult to answer - it goes far beyond my championship best of show awards won, and world recognition as an artist. Maybe just getting to wake every morning and do what I love so very much. It's the most challenging thing I have ever done and the most fun. My favourite quote is, "Find something you love and you will never work another day in your life." This freedom and independence feels like a huge achievement, and certainly the one

I am most proud of.

Whose work do you most admire?

Bob Berry, a pioneer fish carver; Floyd Scholz; Greg Woodard,

raptor carver; and Larry Barth.

To see their work in real life is absolutely breathtaking. All of these masters have taught me by example, and I am energised by their work every day.

If you weren't a carver, what would you be?

I really cannot imagine not carving. It is such a creatively fulfilling lifestyle, and I'm quite addicted to the smell of sawdust. I can barely stand to go three days without carving in my own little world.

Describe the view from your workbench and the area you live.

I look up from detailing the face of this barn owl and out my studio

window across the mighty Snake River, slowed and grown fat and lazy this far south. This time of year it belongs to the Canada geese and bald eagles. With the coming of spring and summer will come white pelicans, cormorants, grebes, and of course, various ducks all year round. I too will be running out there all summer for swimming breaks. The edge of our yard is the river's bank!

Do you listen to music when carving?

Music is the other of my great loves and a vital part of creativity. I have the most eclectic taste in music, everything from bluegrass to classical, big band era to alternative rock. I can't pick

a favourite, just what fits the mood, a soundtrack to everyday.

Who would you most like to carve for?

My parents. They raised me with so much selfless love and support; they opened my heart to the world of nature and taught me there is no such thing as "can't." My father and mother didn't

live to see what became of their weird, imaginative youngest daughter. Oh, what I wouldn't give to share even one moment

of this with them.

Are you a self-critic of your work?

That harsh taskmaster has, over time, become more of a master teacher instead. With experience has come gentleness and trust. I lead a rather isolated life and with this inner voice as a constant companion, it was a case of learn to get along or go crazy. If I need a second opinion or advice, I go get my husband Dennis, much to his dismay, and make him do a critique for me. Though not an artist, he is a very creative, observant, lover of nature, and always honest to a fault, and my muse.


Tegan Foley

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Woodcarver , wildlife , Lona Hymas-Smith , American

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Lona in her studio