SOUTHWEST HARBOR, Maine — The Wendell Gilley Museum held a members’ reception on the evening of July 10 to open Out of the Woods: The Art and Nature of C. A. Porter Hopkins, on exhibit now through Aug. 3. The exhibit spans 60 years of Mr. Hopkins’ work and showcases the range of his art—from wood carvings and sketch books to paintings in watercolors, oils, and acrylics.
More than 150 people attended the reception. Mr. Hopkins spoke to the guests about how he began creating art and what it has meant to his life. He said, “I always wanted to do something with my hands,” and he expressed the importance of having a “rich inner life.” He also reflected on his relationship with pioneer bird carver Wendell Gilley, whom he described as humble, hospitable, and “a prince.” During his remarks Mr. Hopkins credited Mr. Gilley with evolving the art of decorative bird carving out of the “great American art form” of decoy carving.
Nina Z. Gormley, Executive Director and Curator of the Wendell Gilley Museum, said, “It was wonderful to have the rafters ring with members and friends delighting in Porter’s work. His words encouraging everyone to foster their creative energy were truly moving. And his assertion that the most important part of the Gilley Museum is back in the workshop—with the Gilley’s Carver-in-Residence, Steven Valleau—was spot on. Porter fully understands our mission; we could not have a better ambassador.”
Born in Baltimore in 1930, Mr. Hopkins grew up in Maryland and in Northeast Harbor, Maine. From the age of 10 he was encouraged to draw by his parents. Given pads and pencils for birthdays and Christmas, he graduated from pen and ink to paints in his late teens. Around that time Mr. Hopkins began keeping journals and sketch pads with detailed notes, most often while hunting and fishing. He developed the skill of drawing quick sketches, giving him a feel for line and composition. Although he took a mechanical drawing course at the age of 15 and later studied pre-architecture at Princeton University, Mr. Hopkins explained, “I backed into painting and never went to art school.”
The artist turned to woodcarving when he became inspired by traditional Maryland decoys and by Wendell Gilley, a fellow hunter who loved to hear stories about duck hunting on the Chesapeake. Mr. Hopkins initially made duck and pigeon decoys. After the 1968 publication of The Art of Bird Carving: A Guide to a Fascinating Hobby by Wendell Gilley, he began to carve miniatures. While in the Maryland House and Senate in the 1970s, Mr. Hopkins carried an assortment of small birds to work on during long legislative hearings.
During his political service Mr. Hopkins played an important role in establishing environmental legislation, helping to pass Maryland’s first Wetland Act, one of the strongest in the nation. Mr. Hopkins lives on his farm on Maryland’s Eastern Shore with his wife, Patti, an artist. His farming, hunting, and carving continue to fuel his passion for conservation.
Since 1981 the Wendell Gilley Museum has been a community center that celebrates the life and work of Wendell Gilley, a pioneer in the field of decorative bird carving. The museum teaches the art of bird carving and presents art exhibitions and educational programs with a special focus on people, nature, and art. The Gilley endeavors to inspire appreciation of the visual arts, engagement in artistic creativity, and respect and care for the natural world.