EASTPORT, Maine — Surrounded by stove-length pieces of wood, each standing on an end, in a tiny room on the second floor of his 200-year-old home, Pierre Woog ponders the small log in his hands.
Light pours from a single-paned window and reflects off the 1930s yellow-floral wallpaper, left in place simply because it is so lovely.
He turns the stove-length log. He holds it to the light, feels it with nearly a caress.
“We have a conversation and I listen to it. The art and beauty of the wood is there already. I just bring out what exposes itself to me,” Woog says.
And then he begins to carve — not taking the wood away, he explains, but rather releasing what it has to say. “It is all in the wood, not in me. I’m just an instrument,” he says.
In Woog’s hands, maple, apple and other woods found on the wood pile become objects of abstract art — meditative pieces that sing individual songs to the observer. One length may appear to resemble a cathedral, another a cave, and a third may seem to be a pair of women, deep in conversation.
“I only have one rule: Don’t violate the grain of the wood,” Woog says, carefully drawing a shaving tool down over a small log. “To violate the grain would be to destroy the integrity and soul of the wood. Most of my pieces are curved, for meditation.”
As Woog carves, he settles into his work space and begins to reveal more of himself through the wood, slowly disclosing the real meaning of his work. As much as Woog’s carving results in creating a beautiful object, as with many artists it is also about healing himself.
Woog first began carving with his son, Keith, 25 years ago when Keith was just 14. Keith, who went on to become a well-known metal artist, died unexpectedly at 22 from an asthma attack. It was a shattering blow for Woog.
“He gave me my first chisel, mallet and a piece of ebony wood,” Woog says.
Continuing the carving became a way for Woog to continue his relationship with his son. Each piece is a memorial to Woog’s loss, a monument to the love he carries for his son.
The carving also became a way to retreat from a demanding professional life.
Before moving to Eastport three years ago, Woog was a professor and dean of the School of Education at Adelphi University on Long Island, N.Y. “I was a research psychologist, and my research consisted of collecting and analyzing data, making sense of it and communicating its meaning,” he says. “Often this was important for I frequently evaluated large programs and schools and hospitals, and decisions affecting people’s lives were made based on my reports.”
Carving and sculpting allowed Woog to pull away from that intense work and reconnect with his lost son.
“This is my respite,” he says.
Over the years, Woog has begun calling his sculptures “woogwood.” He never paints a piece, but rather he sands them until they are butter-soft and then rubs them with beeswax.
As he carefully carves his latest piece, Woog is matter-of-fact about the work. “If the wood doesn’t reveal itself, it goes into the fire,” he says. Some pieces, however, beckon him to cut deeper. He traces the wood with his fingers, coaxing the message in the grain from its heart.
“I have a vague image of what the piece will be when I start, but each one is extremely different. None of these are supposed to be functional. Each one represents a whole different world.”
Woogwood can be found at the seasonal Breakwater Gallery in Eastport and Cappuccino Gallery in Pembroke. Woog also welcomes visitors to his home studio at 29 Boynton St., Eastport. His website is www.woogwood.com.