Woodcarving catches up with Darwin Dower to find out about the inspirations behind his work
Elements of Time (PHOTOGRAPHS BY DARWIN DOWER)
When did you start to carve?
My carving career began almost by accident in 1984. I had minored in art in college, with a business major. My livelihood was in retail management, but I continued with some landscape paintings in oil as a hobby. Most of my subjects were of old homesteads and run-down buildings.
One day, a man came into the store I was working in, with a burlap sack full of duck decoys he had carved. This piqued my interest and I began carving.
I carved several ducks, but soon realised I had little interest in them. My interest was in the Old West and the struggles that went with it. I did my first western sculpture in about 1990, and I'm now best known for that subject matter.
What made you continue carving?
The challenge! I love to challenge myself and found that working in wood was an excellent way of doing it. Wood is a very unforgiving medium. When you make a mistake it is final. I love the smell of wood and the mystery of seeing what's inside of it when I start to carve.
What inspires you when you carve?
Stories of the Old West or things I see when driving out in the country. I always carry a camera with me. When I see something on a drive that I like, I take several pictures and then the thought process begins.
What are you currently working on?
Another saddle. This one has a large amount of leather tooling on it and is really challenging me. The saddle will be on a rustic stand, with hay bales, a branding iron and a lariat.
Which tool wouldn't you be without and why?
Most of my carving is done with a variety of air and electric tools. I would be somewhat lost without any of my tools. I use a re-designed dental drill and dental burs to get the final detail. This tool turns at nearly 350,000rpm, and has no vibration. It is the tool I would not want to lose.
Which is your preferred style of carving and why?
As I indicated above, the majority of carving I do is with power tools, both air and electric. I strive for extreme realism with my sculptures and I'm able to accomplish that with the use of the dental drill.
Whose work do you most admire?
The Old West masters like, C.M. Russell and some members of the cowboy artists of America. There are also several current bronze sculptors like Jerry Anderson and Jeff Wolf who I go to for advice and critiques.
If you weren't a carver what would you be?
In my younger life, I would have said a rancher, now I'm older, probably still an artist, painting scenes of the West.
Describe the view from your workbench and the area you live
I live in St. George, Utah. Numerous Old West movies were filmed around this area. When you drive around the beautiful red rock formations you can easily imagine seeing a band of Indians, or a homesteader tilling the soil.
Who would you most like to carve for?
Like most other carvers, I do it mainly for myself. It's great therapy and the most rewarding way to spend my time. It's always great to have people admire it. My fantasy client would be someone famous: the President, royalty, or a top Hollywood movie producer.
What music do you listen to while carving?
I listen to old Country and Western songs from the 1950s, 60s, 70s and 80s. Those old songs put me in the frame of mind of actually being there. When I'm sculpting a scene from the Old West, I do everything I can to put myself in that exact setting.