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.
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.
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
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.
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
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."
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
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 firstname.lastname@example.org