Facebook Twitter

A flair for fowl

HOW MANY people can actually say they've carved a life-size Gymnogyps californianus out of wood?

Utahn Maynard Sorensen can, and as luck - or talent - would have it, the carving weighs in at 26 pounds - only three pounds heavier than the average actual weight of his unattractive model: the California condor."I know of no one in the bird-carving world who has undertaken to create a lifelike wood sculpture of this, the largest bird on the North American continent," says Sorensen.

Currently working and living in Ivins, Utah, with his wife, Sorensen spent the first part of his life running Southeast Furniture, a family-owned business. After shutting the retail furniture outlet down, he and his wife moved back east to Chesapeake Bay. It was there that Sorensen saw his first wood carving of waterfowl. After a three-day seminar he began carving 14 to 16 hours a day, creating works that immediately earned him recognition and awards.

The commission to carve the condor came about when a carving buddy referred Sorensen to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Oregon. A new wildlife museum was in the process of being built and the curator was in desperate need of a bald eagle specimen to exhibit. (Since federal regulations have given Native Americans first claim on any eagle specimens or parts, the bird has become very scarce for taxidermists.)

A year after Sorensen gave up on getting that commission, Brian Weber of Promotional Properties Inc. in Portland, called, requesting his help in producing a life-size California condor in flight for his client, the Columbia River Gorge Discovery Center being built in The Dalles, Ore. Sorensen's bid was accepted, and in July 1996 he began work on the condor project.

"There was little available data in my library or in Utah except for some photographs," he says. "I worked on patterning the flying bird from a tracing of a photograph and then enlarged it to give the bird its 91/2-foot wingspan." The condor was one third larger than the biggest eagle he'd ever carved.

Purchasing some large tupelo wood from the Louisiana bayou, Sorensen began roughing out the body and wings. Both the tail feathers and the primary and secondary wing feathers were carved from individual pieces of wood and inserted (70 in all). "The head of the bird was carved first, as I like to give early life to my projects," he says. Sorensen finished it with very little reference material.

Worrying about the anatomy of his carving, he and his wife packed their car in October and headed for the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History in California. There Sorensen had access to a fine specimen of a flying condor as well as various skeletal remains. He took many measurements, photographs and made several sketches. "I compared the carved head with the specimens and found I had very little to correct. We returned to my studio in Ivins, altered my patterns and did some reworking of the body and wing sections."

Having never seen a live condor, Sorensen and his wife attended the release in northern Arizona of six of the birds on Dec. 12, 1996.

Sorensen continued to work on the large project throughout the winter, completing the 70th feather, the wing and body sections by middle March of this year.

"I inserted each pre-numbered, individual feather into the wing and body section with epoxy and temporarily attached the wing sections and the head to the body using dowels that were extruding from the body," he says. "I sealed the bird with two coats of thinned, clear wood finish so as not to fill in the detail."

Sorensen then painted the wings and body separately with oil paints. After re-attaching the wings with 3M plastic wood, he detailed and finished painting the condor. He inserted the primary feather inserts on April 21, just before hanging the bird at the newly completed Columbia River Gorge Discovery Center.

Sorensen began carving at age 56. He's now approaching 71. "I plan to continue showing at world-class competitions, judging when requested and carving large birds for many, many more years."