Michael Stephenson

Thuya Burl Cocobolo Bird, 2022
11 x 5 in
Michael Stephenson removes wood until only the simple beauty of the bird form remains. Made of the most beautiful woods he can find on the earth, they each unique in wood and shape. Each piece can be removed from the stand so you can connect to the wood by holding bird in hand and enjoying the grain. This wood sculpture is composed of a Thuya burl body and Cocobolo Tail with a Bodock base. Thuya wood is an exotic wood named by the Greeks meaning sacrifice. It was highly praised by Romans and Greeks, and its oils were used in religious rites and ceremonies. Thuya trees are a rare species, exclusively native to Morocco, growing solely in the Atlas mountain region in Northern Africa, with small exceptions in Malta and southern Spain. The praised part of the tree is not the trunk but the burl buried in the ground. With a deeper color, concentrated aroma, and intricate grain. Today these burls are very scarce and hard to locate, extract, and transport. High demand has diminished Thuya forests and looking for these underground burls is like sifting for gold. The burls are bid on by artisans and sold to the highest bidder, then moved from the mountains on mules and donkeys. The beauty of the wood shines from the skill found in the hands of the wood artist and is beloved by craftsmen. Only the heartwood of the Central American Colobolo is used and is known for its reddish-brown beauty. The darker irregular traces weave through the wood. Bodock wood is a hard, heavy and dense wood that makes a great sculpture base. It is also known as bodark, horse-apple or bois d’arc.

Michael Stephenson

Michael Stephenson is a lifelong Mississippian with a nearly lifelong appreciation for the natural world. Lately, that interest along with a forty-year woodwork avocation has resulted in a range of semi-abstract bird sculptures. The intention is less depiction than evocation, more an invitation for the viewer's own musings than an ornithology snapshot. 


The hardwoods used are those that best serve the beauty of the subjects themselves: redbud, pear, and maple burl from local sources, redheart, amboyna, padauk, bubinga and other sustainable species from around the world. 


T.S. Eliot's epic poem Burnt Norton features a bird beckoning us to return to "our first world". On a smaller, quieter scale, the wooden birds in this series are an invitation to summon memories of simple pleasures and moments of fleeting grace and beauty from our past.



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