Skulls, Spines, Whorls, and Wings: The Creepy/Beautiful World of Woodworker Laura Buchan
Botany, anatomy, and entomology are Portland wood sculptor Laura Buchan’s muses. From jellyfish tentacles, to skulls, and swordfish, to seed pods, mammoth tusks, stag beetles, and harlequin spiders, Buchan turns lumber into a sometimes creepy, always beautiful biophilic wonderland. http://www.laurabuchan.com
Take us through your process. It starts in my sketchbook, I do a lot of drawings. I draw from my collections of books about animals and anatomy. I collect bones and skulls. I also draw from physical things, my imagination, and from anatomical pictures. Once I decide on something in my sketchbook, I decide on the scale and then do a full-scale drawing. Then I choose a lumber I want to work with. I use a whole variety of lumbers—mostly all hardwoods, walnut, poplar, maple, alder, cherry, and Australia cypress, which is totally different form American cypress. I have a sense if I want it to be dark or light colored wood - the color of wood affects the mood. If the piece is not gigantic, I will cut out profiles on a bandsaw, power tools, and hand tools. I do a lot of things where I bend wood. I also use roasted woods, such as roasted poplar and roasted maple - the roasting dramatically changes the color of the wood.
Where do you find inspiration? Anatomy. Almost all of my work is based on animal and plant anatomy. I love bone structures, and I’m interested in decay and the process of decay. I collect a lot of things. I pick up a lot of things off the ground. I also love taxidermy.
How do you envision your work being displayed? For some of the small to mid-size pieces, I try to make them so that they be can displayed hanging on the wall or sitting on a pedestal. I let the galleries choose how to display it in their show. It is nice to view the work in different ways, especially because sculpture is three-dimensional it picks up a lot of space. I think people in their homes like something to display on the wall. I like the idea of exploring pieces that hang from the ceiling.
Do you make custom pieces? Yeah, I do commissioned work. I definitely need artistic license when doing those but generally when approaching a commission piece I will give a questionnaire. We usually meet and discuss the piece. I let them pick wood type (as long as it’s something I am comfortable working with), the size, and whether their space needs a vertical or horizontal piece. We talk about design and what pieces of mine they are drawn to. Then we start sketching and go back and forth until they approve something. I used to have a lot of people ask me to carve their college mascots. I don’t do things like that.
Woodwork is typically viewed as a man’s craft. How does it feel to be a lady of the trade? It is viewed as a man’s world, for sure. I do get a lot of comments. My partner is a wood worker as well. They ask if he does a lot of the beginning work for me and think that I just do the carving. I am used to it. I think there are probably more women than people realize who do construction, building, and making. I think it important to recognize and value that and give them credit.
Pieces by Laura Buchan can be seen at the Museum of Contemporary Craft, and at laurabuchan.com. Sculpture photographs courtesy Laura Buchan; portrait by Ben Klebba.