Farmer Frank Brown: Woodcarving and Old Iron

Bob McCormack's woodcarving pays tribute to farm country.


| April 2008



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The completed carving: Farmer Frank Brown. Artist Bob McCormack hopes to find a buyer for the piece who’ll put it on public display. At present it’s on display in a bank lobby. (Photo by Robert Melgar.)

Stumble on to a tree growing through an abandoned horse-drawn cultivator, and you might see a piece of antique farm equipment ripe for rescue. An artist, though, sees things differently. Take Bob McCormack for instance. In the trunk of a tree that had grown around a cultivator dating to the 1920s, Bob saw a farmer, weary at day's end. And that is precisely the scene he set out to create in a unique woodcarving.

The tree-wrapped cultivator was a casualty of a field drain project. The tree was slated for removal when Bob, who lives in Sparta, Tenn., caught wind of it. "The owner's grandson dug it out for me," Bob says. "The cultivator was broken but I didn't need all the parts, so I used a cutting torch to cut it up."

Once he got the relic home, roots and all, Bob took stock. He was the proud owner of a McCormick-Deering horse-drawn cultivator from about 1922, with a box elder tree growing through it. The trunk was about 20 inches in diameter and 6 feet tall.

Almost immediately, the oddity attracted interest. "When I first brought it home," Bob recalls, "a friend offered me $500 for it, as is, as yard art. But my desire to play was stronger than my desire for $500." An experienced wood carver, Bob already had a project in mind. "I knew from the beginning that I would try to carve a figure of a farmer in that tree. I could see him leaning back over the wheels."

Sizing up a challenge

A less experienced artist might never have tackled the piece. "When I topped the tree, there was a crotch of three limbs," Bob says, "and crotches are skittish to carve. You just don't know how far a natural split will go." But Bob was well familiar with such challenges. As a novice wood carver, he worked with large tree knots, "wood that was twisted or scarred in some way and healed over, the kind of wood that timber cutters discarded."

As time passed, he came to understand the appeal of working with the wood, rather than forcing his will on it. "You have to follow the way the wood leads you," he says. "Sometimes (damage caused by) bugs and worms determine what I do."