Brad Conklin’s eyes lit up when a friend complained about having to take down a mammoth tree that was dropping black walnuts on the roof of his business.
The friend saw the tree as a liability. Conklin saw it as a work of art.
“He said, ‘Do you know anyone who wants it?’ ” Conklin recalled. “I said, ‘Um ... yeah.’ ”
With some help from a buddy with a towing business, he was able to bring the imposing walnut down unharmed. And that’s when he went to work carving.
Fast forward five years. Conklin transformed the tree along with a maple that fell down at his home and a trio of cherry trees he acquired elsewhere into a magnificent wooden sculpture of stingrays riding a wave.
With its 39 sleek stingrays — each polished piece carved from walnut and maple — the roughly 6-foot-tall sculpture greeting visitors to the exhibits at the 23rd annual Woodworkers’ Showcase at the City Center in Saratoga Springs is as imposing as it is magnificent. Conklin was awarded first prize by the Northeastern Woodworkers Association — not bad for a 58-year-old retired Central Hudson utility worker who started wood sculpting as a hobby.
Conklin takes pride in transforming an unwanted or fallen tree into a work of art. That’s part of his work now: Helping people transform trees that have meaning into artwork that will last a lifetime.
“I like making stuff from things that are personally related to you,” he said.
Conklin, who now works at the Polich Tallix Fine Art Foundry in New Windsor, was among the scores of talented woodworkers featured at the showcase. They included furniture builders, instrument makers and sculptors.
Stan Monro’s craft is designing intricate scale models of famous buildings from toothpicks. The onetime morning reporter at WRGB has used over 6 million toothpicks and 85 gallons of glue to create everything from Manhattan’s Empire State Building to La Sagrada Família church in Barcelona.
The hobby that started when Munro was in fifth-grade math class took on a life of its own when his wife was diagnosed with a debilitating kidney disease. As the couple struggled through her health issues, Munro immersed himself in the hobby as a coping mechanism.
“It really was therapy,” he said as he glued together several small pieces that will soon be part of a replica of Boston’s Fenway Park.
Munro’s artwork has been featured at the New York State Fair and is located in seven museums worldwide. All of his work is based off of real blueprints and then scaled down to size.
“I break down the buildings into their smallest parts and then work on that part,” he said.
Other exhibits at the showcase were more about producing sound than about woodworking. Ricardo Frota, for instance, demonstrated a bizarre percussion instrument he crafted from his neighbor’s old Christmas tree.
As he explains it, he was walking through a forest one day and realized the trees were making a veritable symphony of sounds. He had another epiphany when he spotted the drying pine tree laid at the curb by his neighbor’s house.
Frota hollowed out about a half-foot of the tree’s trunk and then stripped it of its bark. He polished naked branches so that each one makes a distinctive sound when tapped.
“There are so many sounds you can make,” he said of the tree.