DEDHAM, Maine — We never know when the seed for an artistic passion will be planted.
Eddie Harrow grew up in an apartment house in New York City, but it was nature that simply stole his heart. His professional life took him on a path to medicine; he was a pulmonologist in the Bangor area for 40 years. In retirement, nature has once again taken center stage. His fascination? The beauty and allure of wood.
We visited Eddie's workshop to see where the magic happens. He recalled that it was time spent away from the city that began to change the course of his life.
Everything about the outdoors spoke to him, and he gets a bit wistful when he remembers.
"As a youngster, I went to sleepover camp," Eddie said. "And that was my real exposure to trees and hiking and woods and forest. And I really – I really, really, really liked that."
As a younger man, he had dabbled in furniture-making when he wasn’t tending to patients. About 25 years ago, on a trip to Vancouver, something else caught his eye.
"We saw some of the Native American totems and some of the more modern stuff they did," he said. "And I was just overwhelmed. How impressive, how dynamic, how exciting they were. And I said, 'I wanna try.'"
He found a book on Northwest Native American carving and tried his hand at it.
"I picked the simplest image of something they had done. So I figured, 'Well, it’s primitive stuff. It shouldn’t be too hard.' Well, of course, I was completely off base. Totally wrong," he said with a laugh. "With that, I began to understand how creative and really wonderful they were."
The challenge of detailed woodworking did not deter him. He kept carving – faces, flowers, just about anything that caught his eye. Over time, his carving got more detailed. He works in basswood, the softest of the hardwoods.
"If you go in one of the great cathedrals and you see the images of the saints, or you’ll see in a chapel, you know, a trinity scene or something like that … that’s basswood," he said with a bit of reverence.
He begins by gluing panels of wood together to create his canvas. The larger the design, the more panels he needs. Even piecing the wood together requires precision.
For Eddie, working with wood is like working on a somewhat fluid canvas.
"Wood never is static; it's always moving. It tends to bend – and sometimes warp and twist and break and split as it ages," he said from experience.
All of that is taken into account as he plans each piece. Eddie transfers the image he plans to work with onto the wood by simply tracing it over carbon paper. He sketches the bold outline of the image and fills in the detail as he carves.
He begins by using a router to scoop out the various levels, carving the finer detail by hand.
It seems once Eddie Harrow started carving, he just didn’t stop.
"It’s sort of like facets on a diamond – when the light hits it, it bounces," he said. "And when it bounces, it gives you this real sense of depth and dynamism."
An average piece – something that might hang on the wall in his home – might take 50 to 80 hours of work. Larger commissions, like the image of a log drive that hangs in the Penobscot County courthouse in Bangor, might take as much as three or four hundred hours. A work that hangs in the Northern Light Eastern Maine Medical Center cafeteria depicting changes that have occurred in Bangor is roughly seventeen feet long and took about a thousand hours.
"I won’t do another one like that!" Eddie said with a laugh.
But he likely won’t stop carving any time soon. Because the ideas just keep coming. He recalled a trip he took to Tunisia, where he saw a mosaic and was inspired to create the image in wood.
"It was just a mixture of history, extraordinary creativity. We don’t even know who the artist was, and he was able to do it with little pieces of stone," Eddie recalled. "And even with that, you could get a sense of beauty, grace … and movement. I couldn’t take my eyes off it."
That work currently hangs in his living room.
Back in the shop, he is chipping away at a self-portrait.
"I joke. If Rembrandt can do sixty self-portraits, I guess I can do one," he said, holding the unfinished work.
But his greatest inspiration – and deepest gratitude – comes from the very good fortune that life led him to Maine.
"I’m in the woods. And I love being in the woods. I just love walking in the woods. Seeing the sun come down, through the leaves, skiing, cross country skiing in the woods," he said. "Working with wood is almost like a sensuous experience. And so to be able to take stuff ... take something from it, and then create something is very, very rewarding. It’s very fulfilling. And I love doing it. And – it’s a piece of me that’s hopefully going to be around ... when I’m in the woods."
If you would like to see more of Eddie’s work, you can visit his website by clicking here.