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Professor Boyd: Is He an Artist?

Dr. Tom Boyd, chair of Berea College's sociology department, is not an artist... or is he? For the past fifteen years he has been making art: twisted faces, curved torsos and pieces of social commentary carved from found wood.

"Anger" and "Despair" from Tom Boyd's "Facing a Wait for Godot" series.

Since he has never attended art school, Boyd considers his work to be "outsider art," meaning art that is self-taught and does not fit into mainstream or "official" culture. "I do fit the category of untrained and eccentric," Boyd said, referring to the traditional view of outsider artists and folk artists such as Edgar Tolson, Minnie Adkins and Howard Finster. "I am just a person who imagines things he would like to create from wood," Boyd stated.

Boyd's carvings and sculpture were recently featured in an exhibit in Hutchins Library. The pieces were taken from the work Boyd has completed in the past three years. Included in the exhibit along with Boyd's larger sculptures were smaller figures and carved wooden "love spoons".

"I find [the wood] in piles of firewood in people's backyards, tree falls on a farm in Estill County, and I beg logs from tree trimmers here in Berea," said Boyd. "Windstorms are my greatest friend." He is not discriminate about the wood he uses, with one or two exceptions: "I carved honey locust once! Never again! Outside of that I will use what I have at hand: oak, cherry, maple, walnut, etc."

"Growing up my parents and grandparents were always doing 'something,'" Boyd explained in his artist's statement. "My mother and both grandmothers quilted for long stretches of their lives. My father's free time, when not gardening, was spent refinishing furniture. For the Boyds there were no family vacations, no traveling to places for amusement--we followed the Kentucky tradition of making our own amusement through doing 'something.'"

Boyd wished to find his own "something," and was inspired by the sculpture he saw while working abroad in South America, Europe, Africa and China. "I encountered amazing sculpture," he said. "Things I had never imagined or seen before such as masks, figures, religious art and shocking objects. I wanted to be part of this, thus sculpture has become my 'something.'"

The exhibit in Hutchins Library attracted attention from students and members of the community, who found they had to give the work a second look. The intriguing shapes and faces of Boyd's figures were made even more interesting by the titles of the pieces. The sculptures had names such as "Head Over Heels In a Vortex of Love," "Credit Card Debt," "Run Sampson Run!" and even "The Crushing Burden: The average CEO has 430 times more in pay than the average worker," which took the form of an enormous human figure standing on the back of a much smaller, helpless person. The pieces contained a sense of whimsy that could target intense political issues as easily as romance or everyday life.

Boyd said one of the works that meant most to him was "We Rise Through the Kindness of Strangers," a tall piece carved from a hackberry log. He said, "It is true for my life [and] for all of our lives – we are not self-made people!"

When asked what reaction he hopes people have to his work, Boyd said "...[In my pieces] I hope they find social commentary and criticism, find some humor, and maybe some beauty."

But the most important thing is his own reaction to the work, said Boyd. "…really I do this for myself," he added, "and when I am pleased with the result I am happy to share it with others to react to it as they wish."

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