In his Maine studio, Michael Hankes creates wood sculptures of coastal fish and birds. An avid outdoorsman, he first started making crude duck decoys as a child with driftwood he found exploring. After years of carving various wood species, he slowly learned to work with, not fight, the grain — and now, in fact, exploits the grain of unique woods to create more decorative pieces. Though his work is true to form, the pieces are “abstract” in nature, highlighting the beauty of the animals without the details of their faces, scales, and feathers.
For his carvings, Mike uses various woods, all sustainably harvested, including catalpa, red cedar, reclaimed 175-year-old heart pine, and his favorite, spalted maple. ‘Spalting’ is the result of a fungus that has attacked a tree while it was still alive. It causes a very congested grain that, after carving and many hours of laborious fine sanding, responds in “technicolor” to tung or boiled linseed oils. Mike harvests his spalted maple locally in Maine from large kiln-dried sections.
After finding a suitable source of wood, Mike uses a chainsaw to reduce it to the appropriate size. He then sketches a design on the wood and runs it through a bandsaw and hand-held grinder to ‘rough out’ the new form. Each piece is sanded to a silken finish, and treated with natural oils to bring out, and honor, the beauty and distinction of the grain.