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James Hawk, Wildlife Artist

Spending the morning hours with James Hawk was pure delight. A talented and gifted artist, Hawk is also an illustrious storyteller. At 60 years old, he's experienced quite an interesting life. And, he's not done yet.

Growing up in Arkansas on a farm with no modern conveniences – including electricity – Hawk speaks affectionately of his childhood.

At eight years old, like most boys his age, Hawk got his first BB gun and carving knife. All the men in the household would sit on the porch and "widdle." And now Hawk was one of them. "It was at this age that I began making blood sacrifices to the wood," he laughed.

One of his grandfathers was a master carpenter from Germany and the other a hunter. Between the two of them, Hawk learned a great deal about life and survival. His family consisted of hunters and gatherers and everything they owned was made by their own hands. His hunter grandfather carved duck decoys amongst many other useful items.

Hawk also expressed a great love and appreciation for his grandmother. She was a well-read and educated women – unusual and highly improper in those days. As a reward, she read to Hawk and his brother every day. She also exposed them to many forms of functional and decorative art. Hawk fondly recalled gathering clay in the summer to make pots and dishes for the family.

This grandmother also had some Native American blood, which wasn't talked about. Hawk found out about it many years down the road. Her grandfather was in the army working on the Southern Pacific railroad somewhere in the Dakotas. When he came home with a Native American wife, the family wasn't pleased. Hawk, however is very proud of his heritage. While his features barely reveal this bloodline, his style of artwork does.

Hawk also lived on a cattle ranch in California where he spent lots of time with blacksmiths. The ranchers there often brought injured or orphaned birds and animals back to Hawk and his little brother. Studying the baby birds features and feathers fascinated and delighted Hawk. Little did he know that the education he was receiving would mold his future.

As a husband and father, Hawk worked in construction management for Pacific Corporation in Los Angeles. Suffering a heart attack and bypass surgery, he took early retirement. Looking for a new place to live, Hawk considered Sedona but decided on Aspen, Colorado, because of an opportunity to manage a ranch there. There he discovered aspen, a very soft wood, which he loved carving. Four years later, now 1991, the family moved to Sedona.

When I asked Hawk what brought him to Sedona, he answered "Why Sedona of course," quite matter-a-factly.

Hawk had been carving since he was eight years old as a hobby, but things were about to change. All of his past learning experiences were catching up with him.

Up to this point, he was carving "like most any hillbilly," duck decoys, and comic characters on walking sticks. After meeting Pat Northrup, the original owner of The Golden Word Bookstore, he was about to spread his wings. She saw something more in his artwork and asked him to do a winged wolf (pronounced woof by the artist) atop a walking stick. This began a series of animal totem staffs that Hawk would later call "Spirit Staffs."

The gift went over really well and Pat encouraged Hawk to make more staffs to sell at her store. "She was a real inspiration to me," Hawk said. And Sedona, the "accelerated school of life," was pushing him to pursue his destiny as well.

Hawk took me outside the studio to his storage area of wood. He collects the wood himself from all over the United States. Aspen, hickory, cherry, walnut and willow stalks hung on a rack, awaiting their future as Spirit Staffs.

Hawk uses the utmost respect when gathering his wood. He is very careful not to harm the trees. His experience with finding just the right piece keeps him from unnecessary cutting. Carving begins in Hawk's mind long before it reaches the knife. He often sees an animal or bird head in the roots he uncovers. Later the artwork and feathers that adorn the staff take shape from the personality of the buyer. Eighty-five percent of Hawk’s work is custom orders. People come to him, tell them what animal or bird they have an affinity for, and other bits and pieces of their interests or personal likes.

I was visually treated to a work in progress that was stunning. A white buffalo head atop a knarled staff with a scene from Atlantis carved and painted on the bottom. A raven in flight was also carved and painted along with a magical spiders web. Each item held its own spiritual message and probably means something different to each person who views it.

Hawk told me that he has created Spirit Staffs for people all over the world. Shamans, Medicine Men and everyday folk. They send him pictures, postcards, photos, drawings and then, like a mystic who sees into the heart of things, Hawk carves a story.

His love of nature is evident in each piece he creates. "I study nature, watch the personality of the creature I am carving, then proceed. That's what makes art and that's what I try to achieve in carving. Instead of making a static bird, I put the essence of what it is into the carving."

From the arrogant aloofness of a hawk or eagle to the tiny Hummingbird warrior, Hawk captures their spirit in wood or on canvas. "Each piece of art," he explained, "has its own personality. Like my eagle head, as you stand before it, you feel its eyes following your every movement, you sense that any moment the breeze will gently lift its feathers. Hopefully all of my artwork embraces as much self-expression as this piece does."

Truly, the eagle had been watching me the entire time I was there, so I completely understood what he meant. His pieces have an almost taxidermy feel to them. Gratefully, they embrace life, not death.

Hawk placed a "story" piece in front of me. A desert scene unfolds with a Kestrel perched on the throne of an old barbed wire fence post. A broken pottery shard lies on the desert sand below him.

"People moved in and tried to change the desert," Hawk began. "When all was said and done, they were gone and the desert still remained. They tried to come in and control it, fence it in, but nature prevailed."

Hawk’s work reflects the tenacity and beauty of nature so well. I see them as bold, artistic etchings by wind and time. Every piece evokes the unique personality of whatever he carves.

Hawk has also had the opportunity to spend some time with the Hopi on their turf. He is affectionately called the "Bahana Carver." Viewing their world and carving amongst them has been a deeply spiritual and blessed time in his life. He was also fortunate to spend time with White Bear, a revered Native American Shaman who Hawk made a Spirit Staff for and had a personal relationship with.

Like the Native Americans, Hawk likes his art to be useful and decorative. He also loves to work without power tools, although is grateful to have them available to him.

One of his greatest lessons in carving came when spending time with a Hopi family at their home with no electricity. He sat with a Hopi carver preparing a Kachina for an upcoming dance. "It was one of the most beautiful Kachinas I ever saw, and it was made with a cheap old box knife and nothing else."

After experiencing this and watching their magnificent simplicity, he began to use his knife more and power tools less. "There is nothing more peaceful, spiritual or meditative as carving with a knife and etching those details that bring my art to life. There is a feel about the wood that you can't get with a power tool. Also," he added, "everything I make, I make to be touched."

I certainly had no problem with this, as I swept the studio touching everything in site. It turns out that the Spirit Staffs are just a portion of the vast talent Hawk inspirits.

There are three categories or mediums he works in. . . Wildlife Fine Art, Native American or Spiritual Art and Wildlife Paintings. I would be hard-pressed to say which I enjoyed the most. Hand-carved wooden flutes, knives, ceremonial pipes, jewelry, pottery, decorated medicine bags, paintings, rattles, bird mandalas on canvas and more adorned the room.

There is so much to tell of this talented artist, I could write a thousand more words and still not capture it all. Seems the best way to experience him and his work is in person.

Hawk has some items in Crystal Magic in Sedona and works on consignment or sells direct from his studio. He conducts workshops for individuals or groups, making rattles, pipes, fans, flutes and staffs. Hawk also teaches wood carving to all levels from beginner to skilled, as his schedule permits.

You can contact him at jhawk@sedona.net

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