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Sarasota Tuesday, Nov. 2, 2021 1 month ago

Local craftsman takes on bird carving challenge

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Carver leaves his chairs to embark on a new, challenging undertaking.
by: Harry Sayer Staff Writer

Parker Converse has been many things. 

The 67-year-old Massachusetts native has spent decades operating in the business and publishing world. After that, he spent years captaining boats that took him from Key West to New Orleans. He’s also flown planes as a hobby, worked as a janitor right after high school, and seemingly everything in between.

For the last 20 years, he’s been a craftsman,  making a living in Sarasota designing and carving luxury rocking chairs. His precision and attention to detail is now being used for a different — yet similar — purpose. Converse has started carving realistic sculptures of birds, from small shorebirds to intimidating herons. 

It’s the start of a journey. He’s had nearly two decades to master carving chairs, but learning to create lifelike designs and apply accurate colors for his bird sculptures is a lesson still under way.

That's part of the fun.  

“I’ve always had the attitude that there’s nothing that I can’t learn,” Converse said. 

The pandemic brought a steady level of creativity for Converse, who has spent much of the past year and a half designing his rocking chairs and also writing mystery novels under the pen name “Rip” Converse. 

When he decided on bird-carving, Converse purchased a few instructional videos on where to start and collected all the tools he’d need. He soon realized it would be much harder than rocking chairs.

“If I have a weakness in this world, it’s that I don’t have great abstract visualization,” Converse said. “I’ve struggled with the birds quite a bit and made plenty of bad-looking birds.”

Practice makes perfect, and Converse has had plenty of that in the past year and a half. He purchased a 45,000 rpm rotary tool — similar to what dentists use — for power carving that helps create detailed and ultra-fine results in each bird. Many of his carver’s tips are coated with rubies and diamonds to give an abrasive touch. 

Converse often sits out in a chair on the beach and watches shorebirds skitter past, drawing inspiration from what he sees.

It’s the details that Converse is sure to pay close attention to, often using a computer screen to see the intracasies of wings or feathers, then deciding how to create the illusion fluffiness and volume out of solid wood.

“Straight lines don’t exist in nature, and the surest way of tripping up the eye of the beholder is to draw or carve one,” Converse said. 

The biggest hurdle has been learning how to paint. Converse is well-equipped to cut and sculpt and smooth his creations, but figuring out the different colors and mixes to depict a fully realistic bird has taken plenty of practice. He’s bought color books and mixing guides to better understand how to do it just right.

There’s existential considerations behind his tangible work as well. Converse never had children, and now occasionally wonders about what it is he’ll leave behind. 

“A couple times I’ve asked myself ‘What’s the point of the whole thing?’” Converse said. “Making chairs, carving birds too is almost leaving a little legacy behind. Everyone wants to feel like they’ve contributed something.”

He has birds he’s proud of sculpting but admits he’s at the start of an endeavor. He’s also confident that his craft will improve.

 In the short term he plans to get his works to a more professional level both in terms of realistic detail and properly-applied paint. He one day wants to find a way to carve birds out of a material like stone. 

There are experts he sees in this field, and he wants to keep working to get at their level. 

“(The work I have now) is sellable but on a craft level, it would be in a gift store,” Converse said. “I want to reach for the stars. I haven’t grown out of that as I’ve gotten older,  I’m always reaching for that big success.”

 

 

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