Master of wood carving expresses himself through art

Candice Dungan

A brown tarp covered the floor of the Oscar Ritchie Hall Art Gallery as students and faculty piled into the space. In the center of the tarp lay a potato sack with two tree stubs, a large piece of wood and the beginning of a sculpture.

Artist Isaac Kwame Awuku explained to his audience that for time purposes he had begun to create the sculpture, but it had originated from a large piece of wood, like the one that sat next to him.

He then sat on the tarp, between the logs, and began to carve the woman the wood would eventually become. Kwame explained that he enjoyed sculpting traditional African activities, such as a woman carrying her baby on her back.

“I enjoy watching this,” said Timothy Onp, freshman and international student from Malaysia. “It is just so amazing to see pieces of art done different ways in different cultures.”

Kwame used traditional African tools, which included chisels, gaugers and a wooden hammer, for his demonstration. He explained that using these tools is a lost art — most sculptors use drills and power tools.

As he switched between tools, he would use the wooden hammer to dig the tools into the stump sitting next to him. The tools would stay there, standing upright, until he was ready for them again.

Donna Schall, senior guest student, described the scene as art.

“It’s rhythmic,” Schall said. “You could almost make a song to it as he’s working.”

As Kwame sweated over his creation, wood chips flew into the air around him. He stopped to take off his sweater and explained to his audience that in Africa, artists would be barely clothed, working in the shade under a tree.

“I like how he kept saying, ‘back home in Africa’ because it helps you picture how these sculptures are usually made,” said Josh Minnick, senior broadcast journalism major.

After 30 minutes of carving, Kwame stopped to answer questions before finishing his sculpture. Questions included both his techniques and the traditions behind the African art.

“It’s a reminder that people still do things by hand and authentically,” said senior spanish major Elena Bendekgey.

Contact Candice Dungan at [email protected].