While searching Facebook for anything interesting that I might pass on to our members of BD, a picture caught my eye. An awesome natural wood carving of a hogfish came into view as I scrolled down the list of constant visual stimuli. A few more clicks and I learned that the creator of this amazing sculpture lived and worked just a few miles from my house. I reached out to Doug Snider and explained my interest in coming to learn more about his work. He happily invited me to visit Snidely’s Wood Studio and we set up a time to meet.
I figured it would take an hour or so to check it out and jot some notes, but four hours later, I walked out wanting to find a piece of wood and start carving right now.
I was inspired by Doug’s passion for the art of carving and the story of how he came to be a carver himself. I have not taken the time to start yet, but years ago I found a raw slab of wood floating offshore and it is in my garage calling to me.
Doug Snider made a career at NASA for 31 years. He was in charge of astronaut safety for the shuttle programs. He attributes his obsessive attention to details in his art to his time spent obsessing over details at work because people’s lives depended on it. He dedicated his life to the shuttle, until the time when the plug got pulled on the program and he, like many others, was urged to retire, like the shuttles themselves.
Now Doug found himself at a loss of what to do. He was searching his soul for what direction to take. In 2005, after a series of hurricanes hit Florida, Doug felt a calling and he acted on it.
As he drove past the many piles of debris from the storms, he sensed an urgency to collect the many trees and wood that had been piled up for the trash.
Doug collected and stored wood in great numbers and said his friends thought he had gone a little crazy. But what Doug knew is that he had prayed to God and asked him to show him his God-given talent. He felt this calling to work with wood, and though he had never carved or done art before, he began to carve. He is 100 percent self-taught and driven by a passion for it. He still looks at a piece of wood and wonders at its potential. Once cut into a slab, the unique grain and color patterns give him inspiration and he envisions how to bring life from this block of wood.
Doug has always loved to fish and dive and so he naturally began to gravitate towards fish carvings.
He also talked about how fish have long been a symbol of blessings and good luck, citing examples from Japan and the Christian Fish symbol. Fish became the core of his focus, though some projects have branched off at times. He also makes furniture, decorative tables, and artistic surfboards.
Over the years, Doug’s talent has grown in ability and in notoriety. He now takes his work to fine art shows as well as doing commissioned “wooden” fish mounts for anglers looking for a unique way to commemorate their prized catch.
He also donates trophies to tournaments and their causes as a way to give back to the community.
Doug has also added some unique elements to his work that make him different from other carvers. He explained that often the wood he is working has imperfections in the wood. Instead of using fillers to hide it, he inlays precious stones in these areas that bring a whole new dimension and color to his work. They are subtle, but greatly enhance the look of the piece. Pictured here is red coral inlaid into the knotholes in this redfish carving.
A little less subtle are his forays into epoxy-inlaid fish where he takes the basic woodcarving and sets it in various forms of resin. He experiments with embedding various objects in the resin and has also developed a unique system of led lighting to make your trophy glow at night.
Doug’s workshop smells of rich, natural wood mixed with high tech resins. Projects in various states of progress are laid out amongst the tools of the trade and shelves of wood slabs. A pencil outline of a dolphin on an ancient-looking slab of wood caught my eye. It amazes me to see the before and wonder what the finished product will look like. With Doug, you can bet it will be stunning!
“Gathering the wood and storing it is still one of the biggest logistical chores associated with the art,” says Doug. Keeping up with the many types of wood and their origins gets difficult as the numbers rise. Doug works with earwood, cedar, laurel oak, maple, cypress, sycamore, and many others. Many of the woods are spalted, which Doug explained is basically a fermentation of the wood by mold and bacteria. This softens the wood but also gives it great character and color patterns.
Doug has recently been honored to be one of a few selected to carve a native Seminole Indian ceremonial owl totem out of the last remaining pieces of the “Senator tree”. The “Senator” was the largest and oldest bald cypress tree in the world until January of 2012 when it was destroyed by fire. The “Senator tree” was over 3,500 years old and a height of 165 feet. Doug is very excited to donate his time and expertise to working this historic chunk of wood. The carving will be on display at Florida museums in the future.
Doug’s shop is in Port St. John, Florida, but he also sells his pieces online, in addition to the many shows he attends. You can check out more of his work and follow his talents on his Facebook Page. Doug’s passion for the craft is contagious, so don’t be surprised if you find yourself wanting to whittle.
Check out Doug’s Impact Zone
Photo Credit: Doug Snider