Dan’s retirement sawmill often brings interesting people to DanLand: Builders, Woodworkers, Woodcarvers; we see them all. A while back, we met Brian Melton. Brian carves incredible wooden busts and figures. We were impressed, especially when we discovered Brian has been carving for a short three years.
Brian, an art teacher at Carter High School, has always been drawn to the artistic side of life. As a child, he drew portraits; the challenge of creating faces has always fascinated him. Once his brother carved a wooden spoon. Brian looked at that and thought, “That looks fun.”
The spoon turned out well. Next Brian carved a hummingbird with some trumpet flowers for his grandmother. Brian was close to his deceased grandfather and his next project was a relief of his grandfather’s face. He went on to carve other family members.
With the encouragement of family and friends, Brian began entering exhibitions and online competitions. One competition was a $500 tool giveaway from Flexcut Tools. Starting the competition two weeks late due to stitches in his hand (an accident with a chainsaw attachment on an angle grinder), he didn’t win the $500 award. However, the company liked his story and his work, and offered him a full sponsorship: free tools on request in exchange for making promotional videos and YouTube tutorials.
Brian told people his goal was hotel rooms and airplane tickets. He wanted to see more of the world. He’d go to Iowa or Italy, didn’t care which, and this year he traveled to both! Brian spent a week in Iowa at the International Woodcarvers Congress, paid for with award money from an exhibition. While in Iowa he refined his skills under the guidance of the nationally acclaimed woodcarver Alec LaCasse. He later spent two weeks in Italy fully sponsored by a grant from South Arts.
In Italy, Brian learned from world renowned master wood sculptor Bruno Walpoth. In this master class, Brian was able to sharpen his skills as he learned alongside other master woodcarvers.
While Brian has worked from photographs and, thanks to his time in Italy, a live model, he prefers to craft a bust using a process he calls improvisation. He starts by roughing in basic facial planes, allowing space for the object in his mind to develop without a specific reference. He often starts by studying various photographs to review basic facial shapes and contours, and then refining the details. Slowly the sculpture comes into focus. He enjoys the freedom of an organic process that isn’t burdened by the pressure and constraint of exact replication. He finds that this unique process allows for a new and exciting level of creativity with each sculpture.
A true artist, Brian is filled with the need to create, giving to the world something beautiful, thoughtful and authentic. Gazing at his work brings a recognition of the person. I see kindness, courage; I see a range of humanity. I see someone I want to know. Brian has a wonderful gift that he shares with the world. Thank you, Brian, for sharing your gift.
Brian’s Instagram handle is @roughcutcrft
Cindy Arp, teacher/librarian, retired from Knox County Schools. She and husband Dan live in Heiskell.