Using handmade knives to create both local and exotic birds out of local tupelo wood, Bob Berman has carved his place into the Old Town Bluffton art scene.
The New England transplant is dedicated to realism and detail in his work, which is currently on display at the Pluff Mudd Art Gallery on Calhoun Street.
“Bob is, without a doubt, the premier bird carver in the Lowcountry,” says Terry Brennan, manager of the gallery.
Berman’s journey as a woodcarver began 18 years ago during one particularly heinous Massachusetts winter. With boredom surfacing, Berman decided to attend an Audubon show down the road and was intrigued by the various bird carvings and wildlife art.
He soon began taking bird carving lessons in Cape Cod, Mass., once a week for six years, working through trial and error to perfect the carving process, paint application and the realistic details that bring the wooden figures to life.
Afterward, he took his newly found skill to a competitive level, taking home first-prize ribbons at a variety of carving competitions in the Northeast.
Some of Berman’s most notable work includes a replica towhee that took first place at the advanced level Core Sound competition, a bobwhite that took first at the Down East Maine competition, and a particularly massive loon replica that won first prize at the New England Carver’s competition.
“I was told that the head of that loon was probably the best head of a loon anybody had ever seen,” Berman said. “I remember when I finished work each day, I came home and spread a shower curtain over the living room floor, and I’d get my trusty knife out and I’d start carving that thing out of a huge piece of wood, every night just taking a few chips out until I finally finished it, and it won.”
Now, Berman has shifted his focus from competition level work to his gallery display at the Pluff Mudd Art Gallery, as well as commission projects. Recent requests have taken him in some exciting new directions, including replicas of sea turtles, bears, ravens, and the legendary ivory-billed woodpecker, sightings of which haven’t been conclusively documented since the 1940s.
“It’s a rather peaceful, quiet hobby,” Berman said. “I just turn on my iPad, put on some music, start carving away, and I’m oblivious to the world around me.”
The Pluff Mudd Art Gallery is located at 27 Calhoun St. in Old Town Bluffton. Gallery hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Saturday.
Sam Posthuma of Bluffton is a freelance writer and production assistant for The Bluffton Sun.