Jim Girard – an artist with many interests
April 14, 2006
Jim Girard holding a life-size Red-tailed Hawk that is nearly complete. By Jo Chytka
Jim Girard of Alliance, Neb., enjoys the art of carving, stained glass, painting, and restoring old picture frames for his paintings.
Girard has been creating artwork for about 30 years. His first creations were Christmas tree ornament. He still makes about 100 every year and gives them away. His designs vary from candy canes, sleds, candlesticks and Santa’s, to birds and flags. He makes them from basswood and paints them, some are flat and some, 3 dimensional.
In 1960 he began painting and said, “I’ve painted probably 150 pictures so far. I lived in Jackson Hole, Wyo., for about five years and did most of my painting there. I tried several mediums. Acrylics I just made a mess of. Oils are what I started with then switched to watercolor and like it the best.”
Jim’s subjects for the most part have been flowers, birds and landscapes. “I’m not a portrait painter. I had painted a picture of my dad, which I thought was pretty good. When I showed it to him he said, ‘It looks like I’m dead,’ that ended my portraiture. He was always my best critic, I always knew exactly where I stood.”
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In 1981 Jim’s father gave him a set of six carving tools and encouraged him to try his hand at carving. He tried it and enjoyed it but felt he needed some fine-tuning.
To that end, he began attending weeklong wood carving seminars. For three years he went to a farm outside Rogers, Ark., that was left in an estate to be used for artist’s training. Jim also attended Doane College’s weeklong seminars for wood carving for eight years. Additionally, for five years he has gone to Branson, Miss., for training.
All of the seminars have training sessions, then a show at the end of the week. Jim said “there are vendors there that sell the basswood I use and I buy all my bird parts that I don’t carve. I have carved legs and feet, but oh, they are a lot of work. I use pewter feet and legs and glass eyes. The German glass eyes are the best. They have a black pupil and I can paint the back of the eye the color I need like, green, brown or red, a lot of sea birds have red eyes.
“I have always liked birds. I think I have every bird book there is. I use calipers to measure my birds so they are life size. I have made several to scale, like my turkey, and a pheasant, but most are life size. Baby birds are difficult to do, since a bird is hatched with a beak the size it will be when it is an adult; their beak never grows.”
Bird’s figure prominently in Girard’s carvings but he does many other subjects as well. Santas are a bit of a specialty. He calculated that he has carved around 75 of them, with no two alike. Some that he has on display at his home are tall and skinny, short and round (one made from a wooden egg), singing, sledding, and snow shoeing Santas -all are free standing and three dimensional.
“My Santas are also carved from basswood and painted. I use oil paint cut with paint thinner so it dries faster and gives them a nicer look. I use that on my birds too, along with wood burning techniques.”
In addition to his Santas he has done roughly 75 other figures, like cowboys, clowns, a pilot, and several Norwegian subjects. Caricatures are also in Jim’s line up, “They are fun and don’t have to be perfect, they can come out just, whatever.
“I still think birds are the most fun to carve. The average bird takes around 60 hours to complete, including the painting.
“The most difficult part is getting the bird to look natural when you turn their head or tail, and to get the eyes set in at the correct angle.”
Jim has carved around 50 birds since he began and belongs to a club that meets every Thursday, where he teaches the other members to carve the subject of their choice. Currently their project is the Red-Tailed Hawk – life sized.
Another of Jim’s crafts is stained glass. Most of that work he does in the summer. “That way I can do the cutting and grinding on the patio.” Jim’s windows are full of stained glass art and he says, “I like color, and in the winter it is nice to have some around.
“I do all my art strictly as a hobby; it keeps me off the streets. I never sell anything. I give it away to family and friends.”
Girard has also donated his work for several years to the Knight Museum in Alliance for fundraisers to generate money for the museum projects.
“I spend between one and three hours each day carving. My new ambition is to do chip carving, or relief carving. My first piece will be out of walnut and about 7″ x 9″ and between 3/8″ and 1/2″ thick. The subject will be a bird.”