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Carving part of nature

Jim Maas, a retired orthopedic surgeon from Newport, Vt., began dabbling in bird carving 10 years ago when he realized his calling as an artist. He was originally just looking for a relaxing hobby and found that he could use his hand-eye coordination to his advantage and carry through with the most difficult design dimensions. Birds, he says, are simply fascinating to him.

Bird carver Jim Maas' favorite category to work on includes bird of prey, such as this Cooper's hawk.

“I enjoy watching birds. There are so many of them, especially the birds of prey. They’re very dynamic looking,” says Maas.

Working out of his home shop, Maas spends most of his free time carving life-sized wooden bird replicas of all species. He creates some pieces for his own enjoyment, others for galleries throughout the U.S. and also for custom orders to other bird lovers who discover him through his website at He will create any bird species and categorizes his creations into ducks, birds of prey, hummingbirds, shorebirds, songbirds and more.

Maas prefers to use softwood tupelo for the bird bodies and creates their bases with basswood, walnut or cherry. He finishes all pieces by employing a variety of painting techniques to bring his creations to life. While these replicas might not require the joinery and building techniques needed for fabricating designer furniture or cabinetry, the carving still requires a lot of practice with steady hand maneuvering.

Maas' life-sized carving of belted kingfisher.

“It’s very challenging to make a lifelike replica. You have to make them look right and you especially have to have an eye for 3-D designs. People always ask me how to do it because they can’t seem to get that part perfected.”

A mallard duck, made of tupelo and painted with acrylics.

Before starting any piece, Maas does a great deal of research to assure the anatomical features of each creature are accurate, as is the natural habitat of the particular species in regard to branches, leaves and other elements.

Maas’ work has also been recognized at competitions such as the Northeast Wildlife Art Show in Morrisville, Vt., and the Ward Museum World Championship Wildfowl Carving Competition in Ocean City, Md.

This article originally appeared in the May 2012 issue.

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