Introducing: Kyle Hawke, artist and wood sculptor

I first heard about the art of using sustainable wood to create pieces of jewellery and sculptures through my friend Heather from YankeeDoodle. Friends of hers were in the business of creating works of art through only sourcing sustainable wood which would, in turn, means oversourcing timber is not an issue. We are one more step forward in protecting the world we live in.

As a novice jewellery designer, I’ve an interest in creating something personal and unique using raw (or refined) materials. I wanted to know more about the process, so I contacted Jenny in October 2013. Spanning 2 cities and continents, I arranged to have a chat with Kyle and Jenny Hawke, the husband and wife duo behind Kyle Hawke, artist and wood sculptor.

All photos provided are courtesy, and the copyright of, Kyle and Jenny Hawke unless otherwise stated.

Tell us a little about yourself.

Jenny and I currently live in Wellington, Ohio a small town southwest of Cleveland. We first met back in 2005 at a local golf course not far from where we grew up. It wasn’t until about 2 ½ years ago that we began our art business. We started out very small so that we could really work on the design and technique. We attended small local art shows and farmers markets that first year and were successful enough that we decided to get serious and try larger sculptural pieces.

Last year was our first year of attending art shows out of state, however not far away. This year, we are traveling from the east coast to the west coast and everywhere in between including Milwaukee, Denver, Seattle, San Francisco, and Chicago just to name a few. We will be attending many of the top fine art shows in our country.

How did you learn woodworking techniques?

I was surrounded by the art of wood working since I was little, my dad was a master carpenter and carver. Much of my time was spent watching and helping my dad create from wood. It almost seems fitting that I married a girl whose family owns a tree farm.

When did you start sculpting?

I use to work designing outdoor living spaces (decks, patios, outdoor kitchens, fireplaces). I started to get into woodworking (less carpentry and more fine wood working) when I designed and built a 21st century version of a traditional Brazilian single string percussion instrument called a berimbau. The instrument I built was played on stage next to Yo-Yo Ma! Building the berimbau really got me interested in bending wood techniques and finally into the sculptural work you see today.

That’s interesting that you designed and built a berimbau! Do you have an interest in capoeira, is this why you designed a berimbau?

I participated in capoeira for about 10 years, beginning around the time I graduated from high school. The berimbau is an important instrument in capoeira, so I created a more ‘modern’ style which is similar to a guitar because it is tunable. The instrument caught the eye of my teachers and eventually Cyro Baptista, who played on stage along side Yo Yo Ma.

Cyro Baptista performing with a berimbau on Yo Yo Ma’s Obrigado Brazil tour (unfortunately, I was unable to find a video of Cyro playing on the berimbau Kyle designed and built)

On your artist page, it mentions you use cutting edge technology and old word craftsmanship. Can you tell us a little more about the techniques you adopt?

The wood that I’m able to bend so dramatically has been altered on a cellular level using a technology that was developed in Europe for the furniture industry. This is a relatively new development and has really altered the wood working ‘rule book’. While I take advantage of this development, I also use techniques and tools that have been around since the Egyptians. I use some forms of traditional joinery and carving techniques, while also developing my own methods.

How long does it take you, approximately, to create a sculpture?

It really depends on the size and detail of the sculpture, however a smaller sculpture may take me a few weeks while a larger sculpture may take a few months.

Below is a commission piece that I just finished for a client in Indiana this past week.

Did you notice the model of this sculpture on the corkboard sitting on the worktop of the studio?

I understand that you use sustainable wood. Where do you source your materials from?

Jenny’s dad has a 90-acre tree farm where I have been able to sustainably harvest (plant a tree in its place or remove dead standing/wind fallen) timber from the property, have it milled by the local Amish, and then let it dry. Once it’s dry I take the straight pieces of lumber of what was once living and put life back into it them in the form of my artwork. The process itself is very additive instead of subtractive, so I produce little waste from my work. I try to remain as ‘green’ as possible.

Do you have a team who assists you in your business or do you work independently?

I work independently designing, creating, and constructing my work. Since Jenny is in school she helps with the ‘administrative’ side of the business, completing much of the paperwork, taxes, hotel and flight booking.

Where do you find inspiration for your designs?

Generally I take inspiration from the natural world. I’m not always trying to capture absolute realism, but incorporating characteristics of life. Taking inspiration from the illusion of reality or movement.

Which piece would you consider your favourite?

It’s probably something I haven’t created yet, an idea still floating around in my head. As far as my current body of work, it tends to be whatever piece I’m working on at the moment. I might start a project, but abandon it to start something else because the idea grabs hold of my focus and I need to see it come to fruition.

The first piece of your work I saw was the elephant’s head with the tentacles.

Since my youth I’ve always been intrigued by mythology, especially the chimeric creatures that are found throughout different cultures. I watch a lot of nature documentaries, and noticed the dexterity of an elephant’s trunk resembled the tentacle of an octopus. I’ve been trying to incorporate my characteristic flowing lines with African animals (giraffes, eland) and was excited about the prospect of an elephant hybrid.

As a side note elephants are one of the most intelligent land creatures, while octopi are among the most intelligent of the sea creatures.

In addition to your sculptures, you also made jewellery. Can you tell us a bit more about that?

We have switched gears a tad and are concentrating more on sculptural pieces, however the jewelry is a great way to remain ‘green’ by using all of our material so there is absolutely no waste. We have a line of jewelry out that is very abstract, basically a wearable sculpture. The piece may resemble that of a creature, cells, or even a web. We will have a limited amount of jewelry for sale but plan to continue a small line.

My friend Heather from YankeeDoodle, displaying her sculpture bracelet

Do you have a shop set up for customers to see or purchase your designs?

My space is limited however I hope to have an open studio in the future. Right now customers are able to view my artwork at several art shows throughout the US.

Do you listen to music while you work or do you prefer the peace and quiet?

I enjoy listening to classical music, indie folk rock, and classic rock.

What other interests or hobbies do you participate in your free time?

Right now we don’t have a whole lot of free time with Jenny in school and our very busy show schedule. But when we can, we enjoy the outdoors immensely and like to play Frisbee, mountain bike, go hiking, and camping. We also try to visit various art museums, galleries, and art exhibitions. Trying new restaurants is also a fun experience as we are big foodies!

Are there artists/people whom you admire?

First and foremost I have to mention my wife. I would never have started my art career without her support and motivation. I of course admire many of the great sculptors spread throughout history, [Gian Lorenzo] Bernini being a standout. I really admire artists that have revolutionized their field like Wendell Castle. Cliff Lee (ceramics) is really inspiring because he left a career as a neurosurgeon to follow his passion for art.

I’m probably the biggest fan of self-taught artists. Sam Maloof for changing the furniture landscape, Jacques Vesery and Keith Holt are contemporary wood artists that produce amazing pieces in wood.

Which craft shows will you be exhibiting your work in later this year?

20-22 June Lakefront Art Festival – Milwaukee, WI
27-29 June Boston Mills Art fest – Cleveland, OH
4-6 July Cherry Creek Art Festival – Denver, CO
11-13 July Art Fair on the Square – Madison, WI
25-27 July Bellevue Art Museum Art Festival – Seattle, WA
8-10 August American Craft Council Show – San Francisco, CA
21-24 August American Craft Exposition – Chicago, IL
29-31 August Longs Park Art Festival – Lancaster, PA
27-28 September Peoria Fine Art Fair – Peoria, IL

What advice would you give to someone who’s interested in learning woodworking?

Research, research, research, and ask for advice from others in the field. We sit on our computers scouring the internet for tips and tricks to the business. You have to know your career inside and out. Always ask those you admire for help and soak it all in. Seek an apprentiship.

Kyle’s sculptures are truly works of art, bringing imagination to life, the curving lines of the wood imitating movement and straight lines demonstrating an intellect and purpose in the animal’s intent.

If you’re in the city (or nearby), be sure to check out one of the craft shows to see Kyle’s sculptures, have a chat or understand the trade better by speaking to him in person. You can also visit Kyle’s website or his Facebook page for news and updates.

Many thanks to Jenny and Kyle Hawke for their time in answering my questions and providing photos for this post!

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