Carv­ing birds from wood a labour of love

Central Otago Mirror - - CENTRAL NEWS - By AIMEE WIL­SON

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.

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