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Carving Out A Life With Respect For Nature

Thomas P. Caldwell - February 3, 2014

Brian Stockman would like to think that his artistry will bring people closer to the earth and restore a respect for tradition. His desire to live off the land and his revival of ancient crafts have combined for a life and career that are anything but traditional by today’s standards, but which are striking a chord in both rural New Hampshire and the state capital.

Brian’s carved wooden Indian stands at the Center Tuftonboro General Store and he created a life-size brave for the front lawn of Wolfeboro’s Libby Museum; while his museum-quality arrowheads allow children to handle artifacts at the NH Historical Society in Concord without damaging the genuine antiques in the collection.

Brian has an affinity for Native American art, claiming to have inherited it from his grandfather’s grandmother, who was an American Indian — although he has no idea of what tribe or nation. That information was lost through the years, and, with his light skin and blue eyes, he had trouble being accepted as having “a bit of the blood surging through me” until a Native American support group took a look at some of his work and recognized the craftsmanship.

Brian makes elaborate carvings with inlaid woods, ivory, and ebony, and also completes the details using animal horns and porcupine quills.

“Woodcarving is really my thing,” he says, although he found his carving tools also work exceptionally well for making ice sculptures. He also makes leather clothing and Scottish accessories, reflecting his Scottish blood. He is comfortable wearing a kilt and ghillies — high shoes with no tongue and laces along the instep — another item he makes himself.

“My dentist saw them and wanted a pair, and I ended up making ghillies for his whole family,” Brian said. “They’re very comfortable and, if you know anything about acupuncture pressure points, they provide stimulation of the feet, much like going barefoot, while protecting your feet from sharp rocks.”

Brian lives well off the main road in Tuftonboro’s Canaan Valley, on land he and his family purchased in 1983. After living in a tipi, then a camp, he built his home with the help of his father, Phil, who makes wooden furniture, and his brother, Jim, a cabinetmaker. Also having an interest in stonemasonry, Brian built a fieldstone fireplace and chimney, along with a stone tower at one corner. Married for 15 years, Brian said having a family prompted him to improve and expand the house. Among the changes: The original basement has been converted into a stone-lined bathroom, with the tub surrounded by its own stone work.

After having operated out of his basement for years, where each project involved moving in the proper tools and then putting them away, he converted a goat barn into a two-story workshop, with the upstairs set up for fine work while the lower level has his large woodworking and sculpting tools. A comfortable seat carved out of a single, large tree stump serves as an easy chair for him when his back is bothering.

Around the workshop are the hand tools he needs for the various tasks, as well as a few power tools for the rough work. “I use a chain saw to take off the stupid pieces,” he says, “but I do the fine work with my hand tools. In fact, I can work faster with my gouger than with a chainsaw. I like to get the noise behind me as quickly as possible, then use the chisels and gougers so I can listen to the birds and animals while I work.”

Brian said he has always enjoyed woodcarving, learning his appreciation of wood from his father.

Born in Wolfeboro and attending Kingswood Regional High School, Brian found work at a hunting camp in Alaska when he was 16. After graduating from Kingswood in 1978, he joined the US Army and returned to Alaska where he learned the art of scrimshaw. He enjoys working with horns and bones, finding their various hues helpful when detailing a sculpture.

He said he had been looking to return to New Hampshire when his family had the opportunity to purchase a 100-acre property in Tuftonboro. He jumped at the chance to move back, carving out 14 acres for himself. He later split an adjacent 36-acre parcel with another man and, most recently, he picked up five acres across the road from his home. He plans to clear it and build a barn so he can start a farm. Although he already has chickens, he wants to begin growing crops and to get a cow to provide the fertilizer.

“While I’d like to get off the grid, raising food is more important,” Brian said, adding, “I’d also like to raise bees.”

Having an admiration for J.R.R. Tolkien, and always looking for chances to do stonework, Brian has started building a hobbit hole by the roadside. Living near Camp Sentinel, Brian said he enjoys watching the expressions on the campers’ faces when they pass by his property.

With land on both sides of the road now, Brian plans to put out some of his more weather-worthy pieces of sculpture where people can see them and perhaps make a purchase. His bears carved out of stumps have proven to be popular, but sometimes he puts in too much detail to leave them outside. An example is a bear wearing a Native American cloak and holding a pipe, a sculpture so detailed he does not consider it “weather-worthy” and therefore has it for sale in his father’s shop at the end of the road.

In addition to wood sculptures, Brian has carved fossilized walrus ivory from Alaska. And the work is not limited to mammals: He made an eight-foot lobster for a restaurant in Ossipee and a hookah-smoking caterpillar for the Lobster Pound in Weirs Beach.

He has found himself doing a lot of restoration work on ancient ivory carvings from China and Japan, which he describes as being an education for himself. He said pieces from the early 1800s are especially intricate and beautiful.

Some of the pieces he picks up for restoration prompt Brian to attempt his own versions of ancient objects. He created an ivory “netsuke” bead, an intricately carved sliding object that was placed on cords and used to suspend articles from the sashes of Japanese kimonos, which have no pockets. His depicts a raccoon with an ear of corn.

With objects ranging from the minute to the huge, one of Brian’s most ambitious projects was the creation of a fireplace mantel and surround that depicts a Native American couple returning home from their hunting grounds, carrying a dugout canoe over their heads. Each Indian is carved from basswood and stands about six feet tall. The stump beneath the woman is carved into a forested setting with a variety of animals, while a wigwam is carved in the stump beneath the warrior.

Brian likes to include the objects that are important to Native Americans and other subjects, with pouches, pipes, and feathers rendered in great detail.

With his interest in Native American skills, he also learned flint knapping, creating arrowheads, knife blades, and other primitive tools from stone. He has joined State Archaeologist Dr. Richard Boisvert on digs to help identify what stage of tool production was reflected in the stone flakes uncovered at the various sites.

With works in several homes and museums around the state, Brian is attaining a level of fame for his skills, but he remains modest and grounded in his home and family. He is continuing to work on the house, carving the finish trim to surround a closet he is building for his 14-year-old daughter and helping to build boxes for his other daughter who is involved in the film industry.

For more information, call Brian Stockman at 603-539-3338. 

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