MELFA, Va. (Delmarva Now) -- Eastern Shore artist David Turner has been creating sculptures of wildlife since he was 6 years old.
Fifty years later, he is the recipient of the Ward Museum of Wildfowl Art’s Living Legend Award for his lifelike bronze works.
“I’m totally passionate about being able to work with the clay,” Turner said, adding, “I’m very appreciative and honored to have received the award.”
Growing up in a household with William H. Turner, his father and co-owner of Turner Sculpture foundry and studio in Melfa, Turner took up sculpting from an early age.
“My father was in dental school when he was 30 and had three kids, and was making ceramic wildlife figurines to help pay his way through dental school,” the artist said.
“I pored through nature books. I love looking at nature books and looking at photos (of wildlife), and I love nature shows,” Turner said.
“I was crazy about birds in particular,” he added.
He continued sculpting throughout high school, and then left the Eastern Shore to earn a degree in biology, with a minor in studio art, from the College of William and Mary in 1983.
With plans to go into wildlife management, Turner intended to pursue art as a hobby, but he found a unique way to marry the two.
Turner has called his Melfa studio home since 1983 and, along with his father, has created more than 170 publicly commissioned wildlife sculptures for locations from Washington’s National Zoo to the Route 50 entrance to Ocean City.
Some of his local works include the blue heron and Canadian geese statues at Norfolk's MacArthur Center, as well as the "Trio of Herons Fountain" centerpiece of Virginia Beach Town Center.
He uses the lost-wax process to create his three-dimensional works.
The intensive process begins with a clay model, which can take anywhere from a few weeks to a year-and-a-half to create, depending on its size, Turner said.
Once the model is complete, he encases in it in a rubber mold and then cuts that mold from the clay. He then pours wax into the empty space to create a wax casting, which he corrects for imperfections before dipping into a ceramic liquid.
After building up several ceramic layers, the piece is ready to be fired in the furnace, which hardens the mold and evacuates the wax — lending the technique its “lost wax” name.
Finally, Turner pours molten bronze into the ceramic mold, lets it cool and chisels the ceramic material from the bronze surface.
“We’re a foundry, studio and gallery. … We do everything right here from the beginning to the end,” Turner said, which is “fairly unique” in his line of work.
The metal pieces — which can number up to 100 for a large sculpture — then go to a shop where they are welded together and sandblasted to remove imperfections.
In a patina room, Turner applies the finishing touches using a torch to create chemical reactions that give the metal its lifelike finishes.
“Say with a red fox — you get beautiful layers of the red” through that process, he said.
Turner has taken home first place in the Ward Museum’s sculpture competition five times, and said winning the Living Legend Award “means a lot.”
“They like to recognize people that are creative, but also give back … and I try to do that with the community as much as I can,” he said.
Turner is on the Virginia Eastern Shore Land Trust board and VIMS Eastern Shore Laboratory committee.
He will accept the Living Legend Award during a ceremony Friday, April 27, 2018, from 5-8 p.m. at the Ocean City Performing Arts Center after the Ward World Championship Wildfowl Carving Competition and Art Festival.
Other 2018 winners of the Living Legend Award include Robert Kerr, a Canada native who is one of the Smith Falls Famous Five, a group of carvers who started carving in the 1950s and consistently won competitions at home and abroad; and Oliver “Tuts” Lawson, a Crisfield native who is touted as one of the region’s best contemporary bird carvers.
The Ward Museum, part of Salisbury University, offers a fantastic collection of carvings and bird art.
It’s named after brothers Lem and Steve Ward, who rose to fame when their highly precise carvings began winning awards.
In 1968, they established the Ward Foundation, which sponsors the annual Ward World Carving Competition that brings the world’s best decoy carvers to the Eastern Shore.
The museum hosts educational programs, exhibits and events to help visitors understand wildfowl art and the connections between art, culture and the natural world, too.
Advanced tickets, which are required to attend the Living Legend Award dinner, will be available online starting in January at www.wardmuseum.org.
Visit the website to learn more about the museum of carvings and avian art, and see www.turnersculpture.com for more information about Turner and his works.
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