The Keeper & The Woodcarver

Aug 12 07:28 2010 David Bunch Print This Article

In the Vieux Carre section of New Orleans stands the old cathedral. It is in the charge of the Oblate Fathers, whose dedication is to work among the poor. So here they have created a social center and set up a playground. Within the cathedral are the archives containing records of births, marriages and deaths for more than two centuries.

In the Vieux Carre section of New Orleans stands the old cathedral. It is in the charge of the Oblate Fathers,Guest Posting whose dedication is to work among the poor. So here they have created a social center and set up a playground. Within the cathedral are the archives containing records of births, marriages and deaths for more than two centuries. The superintendent of the community center and the keeper of these old records is John Ray. Here he guards, copies and translates these archives, be they written in Spanish, French, Latin or Italian. Here, also, he supervises the work of the social center and sees that all goes well on the playground. But one might find him sitting somewhere in this play area, surrounded by the shouts of play, hemmed in by the narrow streets and close-built houses of the Vieux Carre, carving.

From the block of wood in his hand he will be fashioning a bird, and he will likely tell you that what he is doing transports him from the congested confines of the district to the wide open spaces. This is John Ray's hobby. He is a native of Ohio, and has always cherished an inquiring love of Nature. He says that his earliest memories are entwined with roaming the countryside with a pal and observing the wild world about him. And with his love of Nature went an interest in wood carving. As a youngster he carved horses and traded them for boyish treasures. Grown up, he studied with the Oblate Fathers, but ill health stopped his studies and he turned to social work and travel, setting aside his carving tools. Finally came the opportunity to serve humanity at the old cathedral. With this chance came also the opportunity to carry out the stifled desire to carve birds in his spare moments.

With a rare and delicate touch he began transforming pieces of wood into captivating and authentic creatures. He completed a series of bird carvings and placed them in a special case with a habitat background. Urged by delighted friends to go on, he has now completed a collection of three hundred and thirteen birds representative of every group of North American bird life.

From Nature itself, from skins and from pictures he has taken his inspiration. Each bird is first carefully studied and outlined roughly on wood. Then the rude outline is cut out with a coping saw. From then on it is a matter of a skillful knife and equally skillful painting. His latest group of birds comprises seventeen southern marsh birds; larger than his other subjects and so delicately and gracefully fashioned that they stand erect yet sway with the least vibration. Although John Ray's collection has been appraised at several thousand dollars he says that he is not interested in selling it. Art lacks interest for him the moment it loses spontaneity and must be produced to please another.


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