By Mary Reid Barrow
When driftwood artist John LePine and his wife Beth look for driftwood on the beach that he can shape into bird sculptures, Beth will pick up a piece and ask if he can use it.
“I usually say, ’No,’ because I can’t see a bird in the wood,” John said.
Back in his woodworking shop in Sandbridge, he hones what looks like a bird to him with a variety of files, a band saw, and other tools, but no carving knives.
With his deft hands and imagination, the shape gradually becomes a bird, not just any bird, but a specific species. Anything from a tiny hummingbird to a big great blue heron can emerge.
John will bring his bird flock to LRNow’s Holiday Market on Sunday, November 5, from noon to 4 p.m. at New Realm Brewing Co. on Craft Lane in Virginia Beach.
He will join 40 artists and crafters, many of whom, like him, reuse and upcycle materials into beautiful art. Look for everything from painted shells, originally found on the beach, to ceramic coasters created with old pieces of builder tiles, to clothing fashioned from reclaimed yarn and fabrics found in secondhand stores.
Like some of the other artists’ materials, John’s driftwood also comes free, thanks to Mother Nature. Most of it is found at Munden Point along the shores of Back Bay.
Crafting birds is a retirement avocation for John, a retired school shop teacher who worked in construction with his brother in the summers.
Though he comes by woodworking honestly, when he and Beth moved to their Sandbridge home on Back Bay in the 1990s, he didn’t know much about birds. Living on the bay, he began seeing more birds and at the same time, met more carvers.
“I purchased a driftwood piece from a woodworker,” John said. “It was interesting enough that I decided to give it a try. I began to think maybe I could be a bird artist.”
Back Bay Birds, Handcrafted Driftwood Carvings, came into being for real in 2008.
“It’s like therapy for me,” John said. “When I come in here at 10 and Beth tells me to come for lunch, I don’t know where the time went. And then it’s suppertime, and I say, ‘Wait a minute, I just ate!’”
As a result of this “appetite” for carving, owls, hummingbirds, and warblers join great blue herons and egrets to line the shelves in John’s display room at his home. The critters are ready to fly up to LRNow’s Holiday Sale on Sunday. Their prices range from $20 for an owl to more than $100 for a great blue heron.