Carving birds from wood a labour of love
WHEN Luke Anthony is putting finishing touches on his carved birds inside his Earnscleugh workshop, it is not uncommon for the real thing to pay a flying visit.
His work is so life-like that even cats have been known to stalk them.
‘‘I tell people they have to introduce their cats to the birds when they take them home,’’ he said.
It could be a lonely life tucked away inside a dark garage painstakingly chiselling away at wood, but when birds land on his bench and talk to him while he works, it seems pretty special.
The self-taught artist started making a living out of carving native birds about two years ago, after a workplace injury forced him to find another income.
Using wood from old fence posts and anything else he can salvage, his work is now in galleries around the country including the Coromandel, Hokitika and Queenstown.
One of his birds was made from the old Reefton Courthouse piles and people send him kauri from the North Island.
At this year’s Thyme Festival he will be working on the black stilt – an almost extinct bird found only in the Twizel area.
With only 67 left in the world, he approached the Department of Conservation and offered to donate a portion of his sales towards the recovery programme.
Anthony’s interest in birds started as a school boy when he learnt about a similar plight to save the Chatham Island black robin.
‘‘I felt an affinity . . . and thought that birds were neat,’’ he said.
Because birds were so flighty and relatively untamed, taxidermy gave people an opportunity to get up close to the real thing, hence the idea to start carving them.
He intends to carve every native bird at least once, but surprisingly hasn’t made a kiwi, weka or kea yet.
‘‘New Zealand birds are quite unique and unusual, but the kiwi? Everyone does the kiwi . . . it has been branded. I guess I will get around to it one day.’’
Fantails and the black robin are the most popular requests from customers, and although he goes bird watching, the majority of information is sourced from books and museum contacts.
Some of the biggest birds take a month and a half to carve, including hand painting every detail and marking.
One of the techniques he uses for detailing the legs is more than 2000 years old – something he read about and then put into practise, ‘‘with many failed attempts’’, experimenting with different wood.
He doesn’t have a collection of his own, except for some of his earlier work when he started out, and the cute carving that sits above his mailbox at the gate.
‘‘Artists can’t afford to keep their work.’’
At work: Luke Anthony in his Earnscleugh workshop.