If trees could tell a story what would they say? For years they stand watching, a mere background to your family photos. The limbs that kids played on or favorite birds perched grew with time. Storms were withstood as history came and went. Nature’s life force grew in this form and by one fate or another came into your life. Yet, trees can die or get in the way of construction. All good stories must come to an end, but what if the end was only the beginning? What if a new story could be told from that very tree?
James Michael Ferguson has been creating with wood for about twelve years. Sculpting, carving, finding an image and bringing it out into a wooden form is what we call art. There is a communication there. There is a chance for a tree to continue to give something long after it’s last leaf has fallen. Within the wood the crafter finds the message, when a person has a tree that is special or an image that they would love to see carved in wood, Michael is the person to call.
When you grow up in Kentucky around bluegrass music with a grandfather that was a fiddle maker and a father that made furniture there is an exposure to crafting with wood. One could argue that it is a genetic thing, or is traditional, or just because of environmental influence and they all could be right. Getting exposed to sawdust and power tools can make a man at ease with them. That seems to be how moving from drawing images to carving them was such a natural step for Michael.
Perhaps it was a trip to Colorado for a visit with his mom and step dad that started the carving. Michael was taken to see a guy carving nature scenes onto doors for a high end home. Seeing his interest his step dad gave him some chisels and wood to work. He gave it an attempt and gave up. A few years later in Colorado again, he saw an art graduate working with power tools carving wood. He went back home, purchased the tools and has been having fun working with wood carving ever since.
There have been mentors. Certainly his father and grandfather stand out when he was asked.
Chad Ruis of “Cheeta Art” told him that making a living as an artist was possible. He showed him that living the artist life and spreading goodwill and happiness through one’s work was real. Gregory Johnson with Filthy Farm Girl Soap and Hawaiian Island Soap showed him that going public and getting in front of an audience was how to sell something amazing.
Michael said many people encouraged and helped him make the move into tree carving and wood work as a full time gig. He appreciates them all.
Michael has owned and operated a landscape company for many years and has had to deal with dead trees, cutting them down and removing the mess. He saw first hand the sadness some people expressed. When asked about his experiences he was thoughtful.
Here is one story that he shared with me.
“ One of my favorite pieces so far has been an eagle bench. I carved it from a large sweet gum tree that sat in the middle of a lady’s beautiful backyard overlooking a lake. The tree was struck by lightning, killing it. This lady loved the tree so much that she started welling up when it was being cut up and removed. I noticed this and made a big move from landscape contractor to artist. I suggested that we commemorate the tree by turning the trunk into a bench to be placed in the spot where the tree once stood. I suggested she could sit out and admire her lake view. We talked for a bit and an eagle was agreed upon as the theme. I am so proud of how it came out and she was beyond thrilled. I know that tree was a happy place for her and now her bench is. It is amazing to share the making of something sort of sad into something so awesome and happy.”
When asked about any other favorite pieces the real story came out.
“I was 14 or so and my best friend lost his father to a heart attack. I drew a picture of Jesus for his mom, a devout Catholic, to comfort her during her time of loss. She framed the simple sketch and hung it, front and center, in her living room for over 20 years. Several years back she was diagnosed with cancer and I wanted to do something really special for her as they are like family to me. I started carving a crucifix. I thought it might help her as she battled the disease. Sadly, yet mercifully, she passed very quickly. The piece sat unfinished for a couple years as I just worked my landscape business. I wasn’t able to give it to her which made me sad. I had stopped carving and was just working at the business I did for money. One day I saw it sitting there and I knew I had to finish it and give it to my friend to honor his mother. Call it divine inspiration or what have you, I was literally yanked out of my creative slump and I spent over 200 hours working with the smallest piece of wood I had ever done. When I was able to finish what I set out to do, honoring her, my real calling hit me full force.
I decided to commit to creating art in wood and helping others find joy as a full time job.
It is great to make a lawn look pretty but the deep fulfilling happiness to me is seeing someone’s face when they receive the artwork I have crafted.”
He has owned and worked his own landscape and tree service for 20 years, 16 of which have been here locally. He says it has been a good business but he has now chosen to concentrate on what he loves. Everyone knows that is the best way to make a meaningful living.He laughs when he says “ The first 40 years of childhood are the toughest. I will do my best to do what makes me happy, to spread some love, share my art and make some more great stories before I am done. I hope to do well enough to let this be my full time thing from here on.”
Michael tells me his ideal client would be someone that needs a tree removed but is sad to see it go and wants to do something special with it. In the new era of being more earth friendly and wanting to preserve and recycle things his craft is a wonderful way to do that.
He is happy to work in a pretty large area of mid-Florida so even if you don’t have a tree or a prize piece of wood and a vision perhaps someone you know does. This is not the easiest way to make a living so spread the “good news” from this site and share this on facebook or with a friend that may want to make something special.
Michael is available via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or call him at 813-215-1138