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Nick Eason - Wildlife Sculptor
by Carol Nabrotzky Wells

Nick Eason, permanent resident of Moab since 1995, has won many awards and much recognition for his wildlife wood sculptures. His passion for carving wood began largely by accident when he found a book on carving and whittling in his local library, over thirty years ago. Armed with a pocket knife and some wood found in the alley, Eason carved out his first piece, a simple wooden duck. The comparison of the simplicity of his first duck with to the complexity of the barn owl that I saw in-progress in his studio express the time, work, and concentration, which Eason has focussed into his passion for carving. Skill and dedication are a large part of what distinguishes Eason¹s work in juried shows today.

Eason sculpts his wooden figures in a sleek and lustrous fashion, paying attention to the details, but removing some of the hard and rough textures from the final product. This blend of fidelity to the proportion and accuracy with the simplification of detail characterizes his style, ‘simplified realism’. Eason favors birds and foul and small mammals for his subject matter in his wildlife carvings. But, he has also carved large aquatic mammals, like a variety of whales, and caricatures of humans, trolls, and
humanlike figures. His sculptures are primarily done in the native hard woods, such as sycamore, black walnut, mahogany, and cherry.

The first element of Eason’s creative process is to have the creative spark ignited by a gesture, movement, or pose that he witnesses in the natural world. Then with the help of nature photographs and research about the specific animal, Eason creates a clay sketch of the animal to work out the composition and design elements. When a suitable piece of wood has been found to accommodate the sculpture, Eason begins a long process of carving the wood with various tools and chisels. A large piece, like “Heading Home” could take at least 300 hours or more just to do the carving and finishing of the sculpture.

“Heading Home” exhibits two trout swimming up stream struggling against the fluid motion of the carved water. One fish¹s head pops out against the rushof the current. Smooth deep cuts and wavy lines express the motion of the water. Eason creates a sense of lightness and flow by hollowing out particular areas of the sculptural base. He maintains the structural integrity of the piece, while exaggerating the movements visually as the dynamism stretches into three dimensions. This ability to invent and sculpt in an asymmetrical and dynamic fashion is a technically advanced ability. Unlike his symmetrical, even, and simple first sculptures from thirty years ago, Eason¹s current work expresses the eye and experience of a master sculptor.

Much of the movement expressed in Eason¹s sculpture is similar to the movement captured by the famous French sculptor Auguste Rodin (1840-1917) in his bronze and marble sculptures. Rodin was famous for the way he expressed motion in a line or gesture, which suggested that the sculpture was eternally in motion rather than being an inert and cold representation of the subject. Overcoming the structural elements in creating a bronze with movement is seemingly easy when compared with the marble or wood, as the metal supports a broader range of weight. A wood or marble piece, which is created by subtraction— removing the layers of material— must be supported by the actual block it is carved out of. So there are certain physical limitations that a subtractive sculptor must account for: how to orient the weight relationships in the sculpture, how to express movement, three-dimensionality, and flow without allowing the sculpture to become blocky or have delicate appendages of the sculpture which are in danger of breaking.

Eason did not say it to me directly, but there is a profound love and sensitivity to nature in his sculptures. The subtle and delicate gestures, created by the slight twist of the head in “Heads Up”, reveal Eason’s careful attention to the beauty, complexity and mystery discovered in his attentive observation. Eason worked for 32 years in the National Park Service moving all over the country and living at a various parks, including living in Moab from 1982-88, at which he encountered a wide range of climates, animals, and habitats. Eason does have a collection of images and articles that provide the research for a subsequent sculpture. The life and soul-fullness evident in his recent sculptures, however, are founded two characteristics of his work: perfected technique in rendering the subject and an awareness and passion for the subject. Take “Forbidden Fruit”, for example, carved out of black walnut: the intensity of the head angle and stare of the bird, and the way the tail lifts directly vertical. These are feats expressive genius, as far as being able to balance the sculpture, create dynamism and intrigue, and maintain true to the proportions and habitat of the specific animal. “Forbidden Fruit” recently won first place, ‘best in show’, in professional sculpture Glenwood Springs, 2001 Fall Arts Festival. The smooth lines compliment the complexity of the pose and gesture of the base.

Eason cited an Oklahoma sculptor by the name of Willard Stone (1916-1985) for the inspiration of this style of wildlife sculpture. Stone, a carver of Cherokee decent, Eason created wildlife wood sculpture in a similar form of simplified realism.

The high polish is very sensual and invites the viewer to reach out and fondle Eason’s work. Which is fortunate in the case ‘Netsuke’ a newer exploration for Eason. Netsuke derives from a Japanese tradition of carving small toggles out of hard woods that were originally used to fasten a purse or a tobacco pouch to a kimono sash to prevent these items from being lost. The netsuke are a highly collectible form of stylized small sculpture. In the tradition of netsuke the figures are rounded off without hard edges, which makes it gentle to the touch and easily held in the palm of the hand. The subjects of the netsuke are generally animals, nature, and faces (grotesque and humorous). The netsuke are generally carved in harder woods, like boxwood, fruit and topical hardwoods, than that of his larger sculptures. At the Overlook Gallery in Moab, Eason has a range of ‘netsuke’ and some larger sculptures. In December, some of his work will be featured as part of a larger group show.

An instructor of Eason’s once warned him, if you are serious about a career in sculpture do not do wood, and do not do wildlife. I am sure glad he did not listen to this advice. It seems, rather, that he followed the wisdom of Joseph Campbell, “follow your bliss,” which would account for the sensitivity, passion, drama, and sensuality of his wildlife wood sculptures.


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