Nature has long been the inspiration behind countless artists and their works. Some artists see a beautiful landscape, and capture it on canvas. Others see a twisted piece of wood, and visualize a tool or sculpture. Cobbs Creek Community Environmental Center is hosting local artists whose art is inspired by the natural world.
The Center kicks off their new exhibition this Friday at 6pm with a gallery opening that features the works of local artist Robin Irizarry. The exhibit runs until June. Irizarry works as the Watershed Coordinator for the Tookany/Tacony-Frankford Watershed Partnership, and for the past five years has been carving toys and other objects from reclaimed or found wood. “I keep a saw in my backpack just in case,” Irizarry said.
Irizarry grew up in Olney, and spent a lot of time in nearby Tacony Creek Park. He believes his proximity to this park helped foster his appreciation and connection to the natural world. “(The Park) got me hooked on being outside, and interested in animals and wildlife,” Irizarry said.
According to him, he began making wooden swords and camping tools for his son about five years ago. At the time he was working in landscape design and restoration, and often found wood that was not being used. “I constantly had access to wood, and materials that were just scrap leftover from jobs,” Irizarry said. “I started doing most of this carving using reclaimed and salvaged pieces of wood.”
Irizarry tells us his son has asthma, so in order to create objects from wood, he needed to use a technique that didn’t produce sawdust. He began carving wooden objects using only knives and a small hatchet. “It’s really this kind of reductionist process to get to what you want it to be,” Irizarry said. His friends took notice of his carvings, and he soon opened an etsy shop selling handmade wooden objects like toy axes and camping tools.
Irizarry wants to create quality toys that are sustainable. “I wanted to be making an heirloom quality toy that somebody could pass to their kids,” Irizarry said. “If someone totally lost interest in it, I feel less guilty because its made of wood and can break down.”
His spoons and other hand carved objects will be on display starting this Friday at the Center, and Irizarry will be at the gallery opening doing live carving demonstrations. “I don’t like sitting behind a table, I prefer to do a live demonstration,” he said. “I bring around a stump, and demonstrate the techniques going from the branch found on the road or my backyard, and show folks the full process.”
Irizarry will be displaying toys as well as spoons. He tells us that many of the spoons feature wildlife motifs and animals carved into them. Irizarry is also working on a series of t-shirts featuring environmentally themed designs based on creeks in Philadelphia. His Cobbs Creek design features a nighthawk swooping over row houses, and will be available at the opening. “I’m looking forward to doing more of those for the Philly creeks,” Irizarry said.
Irizarry’s art has a practical side to it, but for him, it’s a way of connecting to his environment. “I like the idea of practicing a skill with your hands, and being able to start something from scratch and just kind of go through the steps of what you want this thing to look like,” Irizarry said. “That’s what fascinates me most, just being able to take some raw material and turn it into something that can be useful or beautiful.”