Chad Awalt 2019 Show Originals

When he was a child, Chad Awalt spent a lot of time in his grandfather’s basement watching him whittle. “His stuff was technically called whittling, but at a phenomenal level. And he was very prolific. I thought everyone’s grandpa carved in the basement. I thought it was normal,” he explains. Chad attended the University of Colorado and studied anatomy and physiology. Later going into the world of furniture design and architectural wood work, he yearned to create something more classically artistic.

Today, prolific in his own right, Chad’s stunningly detailed sculptures typically originate with a casting of a live model. “It’s another thing I had to teach myself. Since I’m working in a medium where models can’t stand and pose for me, I have to use a study. But once I have that as my study, I can work on it indefinitely. It’s nice having the life-size reference like that. I can literally take a direct measurement and decide which piece of wood to use for that sculpture.”

His studio is littered with logs, most of which he gets after storms. He laughs relaying that almost everyone he knows calls him when they see a downed tree. “I spend a lot of time looking for logs,” he says. “If I see a cherry or maple tree down, if it’s in a good location, I’ll stop. I look for natural distress and character in the wood. I want something that has pattern and detail I can incorporate into the figure. It needs to accentuate the figure instead of being distracting.”

Chad studies the patterns in the wood. “You can tell from the end of the log and other things on the surface where the pattern will be,” he explains. Once the rough profile is cut out, Chad proceeds to the removal process and starts sculpting it down to its final form. When he gets it close to finished, the wood is kiln dried. “If anything was going to happen to it, it would happen in the kiln. That’s the most stress that wood will ever endure. Every once in a while, it ruins the piece, but that’s only happened a few times.”

After the kiln, Chad spends many hours sanding and finishing each piece taking it down to a highly polished surface to highlight the beautiful wood grains. All of the detail has to be done with hand tools, chisels and shapers. Some of Chad’s sculptures have colored paint on them. A few have gold leaf inlaid. But mostly, the wood grain and figure stand together without embellishment. Each sculpture is then finished with varnish.