Princeton, N.J.– For a limited time only, D&R Greenway Land Trust is exhibiting wooden raptors and songbirds carved by acclaimed and award-winning artist Greg Pedersen. Predators and Prey: Fine-art carvings of raptors and songbirds, on private loan from curator/collector Jay Vawter, is on view November 6-December 28, with a reception and special guest appearance by Pedersen, who hails from Vancouver Island, British Columbia, on Friday, November 17, 5:30-7:30 p.m. RSVP for the reception at (609) 924-4646 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Experience first-hand the prize-winning carvings in finely detailed natural habitats. Gallery hours Monday-Friday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. 609-924-4646; www.drgreenway.org.
Jay Vawter is Pedersen’s most significant collector, and this is Pedersen’s largest solo exhibition. Pedersen recently took home best in show, first place and honorable mention in the Ward World Championships—Vawter owns all three winners.
“It will only be up for a limited time because I can’t part with these beauties for any longer,” says Vawter, a retired investment counselor and avid photographer who has collected carved birds from all over the world. “I was drawn to Pedersen’s carvings because they are just exquisite work, incredibly lifelike.”
There is a life-size Harris’s hawk, a life-size Merlin, a two-thirds size snowy owl, and miniature raptors as well as 12 songbirds. “D&R Greenway preserves lands full of these birds,” says Vawter, who first got to know the trails when taking walks from his home in Constitution Hill, as part of his recovery from knee surgery. Vawter made a generous gift of his prize-winning carved decoys to D&R Greenway Land Trust in 2012. They are regularly exhibited at its Johnson Education Center in Princeton to bring attention to the importance of saving bird habitat.
Pedersen lives in Courtenay, on the north of Vancouver Island—about as far west in Canada as you can go—with his wife, Lynn Branson, also a carver and a four-time Ward World champion, and the only woman in the 47 years of the competition, says Pedersen. They met in 1996 at a carving show in San Diego, then appeared on facing pages in a carving magazine. They continued to run into each other at the Ward World Champion show in Ocean City, Maryland, where both served as judges for many years.
A Courtenay native, Pedersen has been carving since his childhood. He studied art history and English at Vancouver Island University, though didn’t complete a degree. After a career in carpentry, drafting, as a design associate for a naval architect and in music promotion, he returned to Courtenay in 1986 and began carving seriously.
Initially working in elk antlers that were naturally shed by the animal, he sold carvings to collectors in Japan, but his interest soon shifted to predators and songbirds. Pedersen is self-taught, and is rarely seen without his binoculars and a sketch pad. A nature and wildlife lover, he hikes and kayaks. “I’ll go for a good hour and a half paddle to distant islands and local beaches.
“Where I live, among spruce, pine and maple trees, I see peregrine falcons and eagle nests,” he continues. “There’s an orchard with songbirds, and a lot of wildlife I see just stepping out of my studio. We’re right on the bay and see shore birds, both resident and migrating. It’s a protected green space.” Pedersen likens it to paradise, although there is development encroaching. “It’s difficult for people like me who have always lived around nature. We have so much traffic now, and highways. People want the bears gone, and it’s difficult for bears to be here. A healthy planet has lots of healthy animals, but declining birds and insects are a big concern now.”
Pedersen works primarily in tupelo from the same southern U.S. source he’s used for 30 years. He begins by carving the general shape, then uses a high-speed tool to create the fine lines for the feathers. He finishes with a mat acrylic paint.
Every line, every feather, is critical. “Some judges look at the type of plumage and the display—if the leaves are fall leaves, is the plumage in keeping with the season? Birds molt and have different colors different times of year. You have to know your feather layout. Birds have lots of feathers arranged in certain ways, and you have to be knowledgeable about how it all goes together. You have to know the structure and anatomy, as well as bird behavior—how do they present themselves? Every bird has a specific way of perching and carvers have to learn to present these very complex creatures in a convincing way.”
It was Ron Kobli of the Decoys and Wildlife Gallery in Frenchtown who introduced Pedersen’s work to Vawter. “Ron has been my most important influence, he has demanded only the best, yet he’s been supportive and encouraging,” says Pedersen.
Before coming to New Jersey, Pedersen imagined oil refineries and a TV version of New Jersey. “I had no idea what a beautiful state it is,” he says. “North of Trenton, along the river—I was so blown away when I saw Washington Crossing, I got out of my car and stood there astonished at the rhododendrons blooming on the hillside and the deciduous canopy.”
Predators and Prey: Fine-art carvings of raptors and songbirds is on view in the Jay Vawter Gallery, in specially designed wood and glass cases, courtesy of Vawter. “We are excited to show these birds because they can teach us so much about wildlife on the lands we preserve,” says D&R Greenway President & CEO Linda Mead. “The collection and its display fit with our mission of inspiring a conservation ethic. We want to educate the public about the habitat these species need to survive and inspire conservation of wetlands, marshes, fields and forests that make a difference to these species.”