Journeys in Inspiration
by folk artist Teri Embrey (www.teriembrey.com)
Art Olver - The "Bark Guy"
February, 2004: I met Art in September 2003 at the Quilceda Carvers Woodcarving Show in Monroe, Washington. When I saw his work on display there, I was immediately drawn to the "soul" I found in each piece - the kind of “breathing-inner-soul” I suspect every artist hopes to pour into his or her work.
Although I had worked with a variety of "found" wood, I had never taken a serious interest in working with bark. But this man worked almost exclusively in Cottonwood Bark*, and seeing what he does with it, I was very intrigued. He called it "magic", picking up piece after piece, pointing out its possibilities lying just beneath the surface.
Fortunately for me, this "Bark Guy" and Dorothy (Art's wonderful wife and now also my new friend!) invited me to visit with them before I left for home.
In his workshop, Art introduced me to bark – much like a proud father introducing his children. I couldn’t help but “catch” his excitement as I listened. Art’s workshop is brimming with carvings in various stages, each more intriguing than the next. As I studied one, another would catch my eye...and then another: magical castles and Santas, meandering tree branches, sturdy cowboys – a breathtaking American Indian woman whose whole life seems etched on her face.
"I've been carving bark almost every day for over 30 years," Art tells me.
"When I'm not carving it, I'm out looking for bark along the rivers and streams, pick up as much as I can find and take it home."
"Finding bark is as much fun as carving it!", he chuckles. "What can I say? I'm a 'Bark Guy'."
As he talked, I began to "see" along with him the beauty in each piece of bark itself – and the joy of following its lead to see what treasures it held. He added with a knowing smile: "Honestly, it's a gift from God for all of us".
By this time, I had fallen in love with the look and feel of this cottonwood bark and couldn't wait to get my hands (and knife!) on it.
Art patiently got me started on my first piece and as he watched me work, he smiled and nodded, "You've got it...you can see the magic in there just fine", and handed me another. What a thrill! From that point, I was hooked!
After working with it a bit, I can only echo Art's own words: Cottonwood bark IS magic! Its grain is remarkable, it carves beautifully and following its natural shape to find what's inside is a brand new journey with every piece.
Art, Dorothy and I recently spent more time working together - watching, laughing and learning from one other (not to mention all the wonderful tea, crackers and cheese Dorothy kept us supplied with!) . Before we knew it, a week-long “plan” had blossomed into a month and we still hadn’t gotten to everything we wanted to explore.
Art and I collaborated on a few pieces and we’re planning to do more work and a show or two together as this year progresses.
My first bark carving! Art started it with the hat, and sent me on my way.
As he works, he moves from piece to piece: fixing this, changing that – sometimes taking months (even years) before declaring it “finished”. "That's one of the only problems with all this bark," he laughs. "When I'm working on one, I might look up and see something calling out from another piece, so I have to go after it. I could do this all night!"
Getting to know Art AND his bark has truly been an inspiration to me - both personally and as an artist.
For anyone interested in taking on a little of your own magic with Cottonwood Bark, Art also harvests and sells his bark - the best you'll find!
Contact Art for more information about his work and his bark.
by Art Olver & Teri Embrey
"I guess if I had to pick a favorite subject," he adds, "it would have to be Western. Faces from the wild west, carved in cottonwood bark, have been a staple at Western Art Galleries and Shows long before I started carving bark in 1972. My oldest brother first got me interested in it and he started carving bark shortly after.
That's where I started, and that is what I'm lining up to work on for my next session - getting serious, finishing carvings and putting them on the market."
"I just hope I can stick to it," he laughs. "I really wanna BE a cowboy....but sometimes I get lured away by cute little cottages and huge flowers, not to mention a Santa or two."
The contents of this page (unless otherwise noted) copyright Teri Embrey 2004. Some photos courtesy of Art & Dorothy Olver. All Rights Reserved.