Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Inspiration in Macon

One of the pleasures I've discovered about becoming a blogging traveling artist is introducing you to my fellow artisans. Whether they be old friends or new acquaintances I get a kick out of talking about fellow "road warriors" who not only have incredible talent but great personalities to boot. Occasionally I run across an artisan that has a story that inspires me almost as much as Ben. Larry Smith is one of those special artists.

First let me tell you about Larry's craft. Larry (pictured to your right) builds wooden birdhouses. Not just little decorative or functional pieces we all occasionally see at craft festivals but homes for birds that at first glance resemble a doll house. A closer look reveals much more!

Each house is actually a replica of a historic building built in early America. Many of them no longer exist due to fire, natural catastrophe, or urban growth which rarely appreciates the architecture of previous generations. Given that Larry has to do some extensive research to find renderings, layouts, or oral descriptions of the structures. In most cases he is fortunate to find photographs of them. The key element to his choice of work is the story that is told about each home, church, railroad depot, or government building. In fact each one of his creations includes a a tag that details the history of the the building.

Even more interesting is the material he uses to build each one. The wood he uses is 200-year-old wood brought up from the depths of American rivers. Loggers, long before semi-trucks or barges, used to float logs to the saw mill. Some of those logs sank along their route to the mills and more recently have been brought by divers and are mainly used to replace damaged wood in historic homes or buildings. Such wood is incredibly rare but Larry has a connection with a saw mill in Gay, Georgia that specializes in log recovery and he uses their scraps to build his birdhouses.

The detail is pretty incredible. He even uses the wood scraps to construct windows, frames, and dormers. Only the metal roofs are modern. Once he has sold a structure he will never again rebuild it so each house is one of a kind. And he guarantees his work for as long as he is living. Big deal right? He's rebuilt three birdhouses lost to Hurricane Katrina. To me that speaks volumes about the man and his craft!

Now the real nitty-gritty about the artist. His wife Gail, who helps with shows and sales, told me more of his story. Larry lost his left hand due to a freak accident while their home was being built. Several years later and at a fairly early age they discovered he had MS, which as you read from a post last week is an extremely debilitating disease. Larry prayed that God would give him a hobby that would not only inspire him to keep living but help him thrive. Thus began his love for woodwork and researching historic structures.

Almost twenty years later Larry is more than thriving. Retired from the textile industry he continues at his craft because in his words "I have to - it's now a passion." I'd say it is a very successful passion. His work and story will be featured in the August issue of Southern Living magazine and one of his birdhouses appeared in Vogue last year.

To me the best part about Larry was his immediate charm and charisma. The man can tell a story and have you mesmerized for hours. From the lovely Southern drawl to his knowledge of just about anything else made him one of the best "neighbors" I've ever had at an arts/crafts festival. It is a privilege to call him "friend." Once you meet him I'm sure you will feel likewise.


kimmyk said...

WOW! Those houses are amazing.

Ben & Bennie said...

The man is amazing. I can't describe the conditions in that Round House. It was damn HOT. I had fans blowing on me and offered him one. He refused each time!

creative-type dad said...

I can't even imagine the time and patience.

Truly great stuff.

Gretchen said...

Larry is amazing and makes me ashamed of myself. What a story! My mom would love one of those houses. Thanks for sharing.

Dad Stuff said...

Talk about making lemonade from lemons. What a great attitude on life.

contemporary abstract art said...

What an amazing person, and the level of details on the houses is breathtaking. Thanks for sharing this great story.

Vickie said...

WOW!!! Those birdhouses are awesome!!! I can't imagine how much time he puts into them. Very interesting story. Sounds like someone that I would like to meet.

Ben & Bennie said...

CTD: neither can I. You've seen my artwork so you know how impatient I am.

Gretchen: the prices run between $200 to $500 depending on the size. I will say that is an absolute bargain considering what goes into them.

Dad Stuff: Welcome! I'm looking forward to visiting your site. I'm a life-long Vikings fan (unfortunately).

CAA: again welcome.

Vickie: looking forward to seeing you tomorrow!