North Dakota Grows: Cindy and Turtle Mountain Artistry

Maybe it’s the fresh air and beautiful landscapes.  Maybe it’s the supportive communities.  Maybe it’s the relaxed pace of life.  But for being a relatively small (but mighty) state, North Dakota is the fortunate home to many truly exceptional artists – like Cindy Roth of Turtle Mountain Artistry, who brings blocks of tupelo wood to life.  The wonderful Cindy has kindly offered up her thoughts on how she has carved out her own piece of North Dakota:


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What guided you to wood sculpture?

Born and raised on a small farm/ranch in southwestern North Dakota I grew to love the simple and peaceful life that a rural community can give you.  At a young age I developed a love for nature and the beauty it provides.  I love the four seasons and watching the birds return in the spring as everything comes back to life.  I now live in Bottineau on the edge of the Turtle Mountains and love the subtle beauty of the hills and the plains.

My mother always encouraged me to develop my natural artistic abilities.  I have tried my hand at drawing, painting, and photography but never really felt satisfied with the results.  One day I stumbled across a Wood Carving Show that was put on by the Flickertail Woodcarving Club in Bismarck.  They were offering classes and I quickly signed up.  The Club had (and still has) very talented carvers that specialize in all types of carvings from caricature, relief carving, and bird carving, just to name a few.   You can find the club at www.flickertailwoodcarvers.org or search for Flickertail Woodcarvers on Facebook.

I fell in love with the art of woodcarving and the idea of being able to created simple carvings or very detailed wood sculptures.  Of course my love of nature kicked in, and I started to specialize in bird carvings, which include songbirds, ducks, and raptors.  As time progressed, I decided to take my hobby to the next level and I opened up a shop on Etsy in an effort to sell my carvings.   I discovered there was a demand for Santa Clauses, so I added that to my shop as well.  There seems to be a lot of people that collect Santas.  My shop gives me the opportunity to selling my carvings though-out the United States and Canada.

What is your artistic process?

I have been slowly developing my skills as a woodcarver.  I love carving birds and find myself getting lost in the detail work that is needed to create a life-like bird.  I usually design my own patterns for my birds.  This starts with extensive research into the particular bird, including good photos of the side, back, and head. This allows me to capture the character and essence of the bird.  I draw out the pattern then transfer it to a block of tupelo wood and cut it out with a band saw.  This is when the work begins, as I round off the wood creating its basic shape.  The next step is to draw out the feather patterns and the location of the eyes.  Sometimes each individual feather is carved into the bird and sometimes a group of feathers are carved.

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Now it is time to add texture using a micro-motor carving tool and a ceramic stone and by wood burning the feathers. Wood burning is done by using heated pens with wire tips to burn quills and fine barbs into the feathers.  This process gives depth to the carving and creates realistic looking feathers.  This is a slow, but very rewarding, process.   Next, the glass eyes are set and paint is applied to the entire bird. The feet are made out of epoxy and wire and inserted into the bird and the base or appropriate habitat for the species.  In most cases the habitat is carved out of wood or in the case of tree branches and leaves they are made out of epoxy, wire, and copper or brass sheeting.

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I consider wood carving, especially bird carving, a fine art.  They are wood sculptures that bring the bird to life.  It takes many hours of work to complete all the steps of carving, which include: research, design, hand carving, and painting to achieve a finished product.  A songbird will take 40 hours or more to complete, and a duck decoy can take 300 hours or more of work.  One of the things that has changed in my 30-plus years of carving is I use power tools to complete the heavy work of removing excess wood.  Carving is a repetitive motion and can really be hard on the hands after hours of work.

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I also enjoy carving things like Santa Claus and snowmen, and I like to include birds or things like stuffed animal or toys for Santa to hold.  For me the most challenging thing is carving the eyes because this is the first thing people notice and they are usually quite small.  There are many different styles of Santas but I prefer to carve old world Santas.  When it comes to carving the only thing that limits me is my imagination.

What’s next for Turtle Mountain Artistry?

As I have developed my knowledge and skills in the art of carving I have started entering my carvings in Wood Carving Competitions.  This can be a very rewarding thing when recognition is given though awards.  One of my best moments so far was in receiving a Best of Show award for a life-sized Wood Duck at the Prairie Canada Show and Competition in Winnipeg, Canada and, more recently, a Best in Division for a Red-Tailed Hawk at the Columbia Flyway Wildlife Show in Vancouver, Washington.  I plan on putting more effort into creating more award-winning birds and entering more carving competitions in the future.

I encourage everyone to support your local artists to keep our communities and North Dakota strong.

[From Amanda: You can purchase Cindy’s creations on her Etsy page and follow her work on her Facebook page.]

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