Woodcarver Tom Longfellow's "Mockingbird" is our featured artwork for November 2009.
Tom Longfellow is a family man. By day, he delivers packages for FedEx. He devotes time to the Boy Scouts, is active in local community theater and loves to spend time with his wife Joanne and his two kids, Elissa and Nathan. At the end of his day or on the weekends, he finds the time to carve birds out of bass and tupelo woods - birds so startlingly life-like, they look like they could jump into the air and fly away.
Birds are not his only subjects. For the play “Escanaba in da Moonlight,” he got a kick out of carving a giant 52” brook trout as a prop. But birds are his specialty.
When he carves a bird, sometimes he will stop, close his eyes and picture the bird when he last saw it in the wild. He often sees the bird in such detail that he not only hears it chirp and watches it flutter - he can actually smell the pines and hear the water lapping in the background.
“I’ve always loved the outdoors. When I was young, my family went camping frequently. At a young age, I found nature and animals inspiring, especially birds of prey. I feel a connection with my work that goes back to an early time in my life when nature captured my thoughts and attention.”
Tom’s passion for woodcarving began 25 years ago in a high school’s continuing education class in Michigan. He followed that up with classes from a Master Carver and 3 short years after his first wood carving class, he won third place in the North American Wildfowl Carving Championship.
In 1996 after Longfellow’s wife Joanne wanted to return to her native Cookeville to raise their family, he received a transfer and they moved from Michigan to Middle Tennessee. Tom was immediately taken with the variety of birds in the area. Everywhere he looked, he saw birds and they quickly became models for his art.
“As far as the process goes, I’ll start with a block of wood with 2 sides perfectly square to one another and draw a top and side profile of the bird, sometimes using a pattern and sometimes a photograph, “ says Longfellow. ”To make sure the bird’s dimensions are accurate and to check on the scientific information, I’ll look in my birder book. I then draw a centerline and round out the bird, getting it close to the shape that I want with different knives. Then I switch to a dental bit with burrs in it – some of the bits are the same as a dentist uses but with longer shanks – and I’ll carve more detail.”
"I use a burning tool with different blades to show even more detail. How hot you make the blade depends on what type of mark you want to make and the type of feather you need.”
Once the bird is finished, he seals it with an acrylic sealer and paint it with acrylic paint. To make the bird more life-like, he will use taxidermy eyes. The feet can be made in 2 ways. If he is competing, he will make the feet from scratch out of wire but it is a whole lot easier to buy pewter cast feet if he is not competing.”
“The piece I’m donating to WCTE is a Mockingbird. The state bird of Tennessee is playful, always fluttering around, from the corner of a house to a post to a tree and back again – a Mockingbird never seems to sit still for long. You will always find them on the highest perch around, chirping and busy at something. I always try to carve not just the bird – when I carve a bird, I also try to stay true to its nature.”
You can view some of Tom’s pieces at Laverne & Janet’s Jewelry in Cookeville. If you have any questions for Tom or if you would like to commission a carving, contact him at 931.432.4573 or at email@example.com.
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