Besides some knowledge of craftsmanship, Mark Woodham inherited a bit of inspiration from his grandfather, a sign painter who turned to oil painting and woodcarving as hobbies. Woodham owns one of a series of paintings his grandfather did in the 1960s of Native Americans. “Along with my fascination with the American Indian people and their way of life,” he says, “that painting inspired me to create Chief Sitting Bull. I didn’t really think of creating it on such a large scale, but after researching Sitting Bull, I realized I had to go grand.”
And grand it is, standing 12 feet high and weighing 950 pounds. The monumental work took 13 months to complete since he was creating work for his Burnsville gallery at the same time. Steps in the labor-intensive process included creating an armature from 1/4” round steel rod, cutting and hammering recycled 3/16” steel plate to the proper contour, welding the plates edge to edge and then grinding them down to a smooth finish. “No paint or patina was used in the coloration of his face,” Woodham says. “The various colors come from a process of heating and waxing.” For the feather, he cut 800 individual veins in steel plate and heated to bring out the various colors. The hair involved drilling more than 2,600 follicle holes and braiding 4.7 miles of stainless steel wire rope.
Woodham began his art career as a glassblower, spending 25 years as one of the founding artists at One Eared Cow Glass in Columbia, S.C. He and classmates from the University of South Carolina began the business after graduation. During those years, Woodham learned to work with metal, often incorporating it into his glasswork.
When he decided to leave glassblowing for his own metal and wood studio, he relocated to WNC, opening a gallery/studio in an old NAPA Auto Parts store. “It needed a lot of TLC,” Woodham says of the space. “It took me almost four months to get to the point I could start moving in equipment. Then the real work began. Having just left glass blowing, I had no inventory in metal and wood other than a hand carved red tail hawk.”
Finishing Chief Sitting Bull was a relief, but a little sad at the same time, he says. “After finishing him, I moved him to my gallery. I missed not having him look over me while I work in the back, like he did for so long.” Even while still working on this, the largest metal piece he has ever created, he was already thinking of the next large-scale project. “And, yes, it will be just as labor-intensive,” he says. “I don’t look at how long it will take; that is unimportant to me. For me, it’s more about the challenges and techniques used to achieve a certain look.”
Get a look at Chief Sitting Bull during the TRAC Spring Studio Tour Friday, May 31, through Sunday, June 2, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. MW Studios is located at 319 West Highway 19E Bypass in Burnsville. To learn more, visit MWStudiosNC.com.