By Gina Malone
Mark Woodham set himself on the path to becoming the artist he is today many years ago and nearly 200 miles away from his Burnsville studio. Along the way, he found encouragement and inspiration from family, friends and teachers. He was born in Columbia, SC. “As a child, I was inspired by my grandfather, who was an avid woodcarver and painter,” he says. “At an early age, I remember him teaching me to carve a bird—a seagull, to be exact.” His parents encouraged him to develop his talents even when curiosity led him to disassemble toys and electronics to see how they worked.
In high school, he was accepted into the South Carolina Governor’s School for the Arts and Humanities, where he was exposed to enameling and bronze casting. “During this time there was a particular artist/instructor who encouraged me to nurture and grow my creativity,” Mark says. “It was also during this time that I mainly focused on woodcarving and painting.”
As a graphics major at the University of South Carolina, he gravitated toward ceramics until he discovered glass blowing. “In my first glass blowing class I realized that was a medium I really wanted to focus on,” he says. After graduating with honors, he and a college friend opened One Eared Cow Glass in Columbia and kept it going until 2017. “After 28 years of blowing glass, I felt creatively stifled and decided to change mediums to metal and wood creations,” Mark says. He also made the move to Burnsville for its high concentration of artists and its proximity to Penland School of Craft.
“As if that isn’t enough of a draw, the area itself is incredibly beautiful, nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains from which I draw a lot of my inspiration,” Mark says. “I’m fascinated with textures, and nature has an endless array of them. I find it challenging and rewarding to replicate these in the mediums of metal and wood.”
He works with local and exotic woods, keeping their natural colors and integrity intact without the use of stains for a contemporary and organic style. “The other major component in my work is metal, forged and welded. I also use copper when the piece demands it. As with wood, I prefer to keep the natural hues of the steel I work with, but will often bring out the colors in the metal using heat patinas.”
Many of his functional and decorative accessories, sculpture and furniture pieces have what he calls “a visual energy, a motion-like quality,” combining wood and metal. “I enjoy creating unique, fresh and original pieces,” he says.
The work he calls his most “involved and personal” to date is a sculpture of Chief Sitting Bull inspired by an oil painting that his grandfather, Frank Knisley, created in 1962. The strikingly detailed sculpture, on display at his Burnsville studio/gallery, stands more than 12 feet tall, weighs 950 pounds and took him 13 months to create. “This was a non-commissioned piece done solely because I wanted to push myself in honor of the great chief and my grandfather,” he says.
Besides his own creations, Mark also collaborates with fellow local artisans on custom designs and creates custom commissions for clients in the area and surrounding counties. “When I’m really into a piece, I feel like time stands still, but also flies by,” he says. “Creating a challenging piece successfully is very gratifying, rewarding and addictive.”
To learn more and to see his work, visit MWStudiosNC.com, Facebook and Instagram, or call 828.536.5041. MW Studios is located at 319 West Highway 19E Bypass, Burnsville. Find Mark Woodham’s work also at the Burnsville and Spruce Pine locations of Toe River Arts Gallery. MW Studios is one of the stops on the Toe River Arts Studio Tour June 5–7 in Mitchell and Yancey counties. Learn more at ToeRiverArts.org.