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Today is September 19, 2018

Wood Works for Sculptor Alex Brown

Wood Works for Sculptor Alex Brown

Alex Brown refines the contours of a life-size horse head he is carving from a single block of wood. Photo: Alex Brown

Alexander “Alex” Brown has led what he calls a “weird life.” He has worked as a professional photographer, a breeder of tropical fish, an oyster hatchery employee and a licensed contractor, all while living in Bay St. Louis.

He is now a wood sculptor, living near Bentonia, whose work is exhibited at fine art festivals from Florida to Colorado.

Brown’s interest in freehand wood sculpture was sparked in Bay St. Louis while hand sanding wood for an artist friend on weekends. After buying his own set of basic woodworking tools, Brown discovered the path of life he seems born to follow.

Then, a few years after Hurricane Katrina destroyed his coastal home, Brown closed his contracting business to become a full-time wood sculptor. “I said, you know, I’m just going to do art.”

Brown now focuses solely on designing, producing and marketing wood sculpture, bowls and other functional items. He uses only native woods collected near his rural workshop, which is served by Yazoo Valley Electric Power Association.

Animals are a favorite subject for his figurative sculptures, their curvy contours and features altered by his own imaginative styling. Some are realistic, others more fanciful. All reflect the strong connection to nature this artist has treasured since his youth on Louisiana’s Bayou Pierre.

His sculptures’ impact comes not only from their beauty but also scale. Horse heads are life size, fluted clamshell bowls fill both arms and cats serve as benches. An eagle, its wings extended in flight, measures 11 feet from the sculpture’s base to its wing tips.

Brown carves every sculpture, regardless of size, from only one piece of wood. “I just grab a huge block of wood and start whittling,” he said.

His favorite woods are persimmon, southern magnolia and old “sinker” cypress (logs recovered from lake or river bottoms). “I only work in local wood that I find here. And I try to find very unique pieces, and that tends to be really old trees, rare trees,” he said.

He employs some unusual helpers to create distinctive looks in the persimmon he uses. By allowing a piece of dead persimmon to decay through the action of fungi and bacteria, Brown is rewarded with a discoloration called spalting. These microorganisms eat their way along the tiny veins that once transported nutrients through the tree, leaving behind patterns of dark, meandering lines. The effect is prized by woodworkers.

“It’s almost like you took a marker and marked it, but it’s a natural occurrence,” Brown said.

The key is keeping the wood from drying out as the microorganisms do their job. Brown paints the cut ends of the wood with a sealer wax, forcing the moisture to escape slowly through the bark rather than quickly through the ends. “It will be a very, very slow process,” he said.

The results are unpredictable. “When you open it up, you never know what you are going to get. I’ve seen it look so many different ways.”

Brown carves some woods while still green. He brushes a green wood sealer over the finished carving to prevent the exterior of the wood from drying faster than the interior, thus preventing cracking.

Finished pieces may get a mineral oil and whitewash pickling finish; others are left their natural wood color.

Every piece gets the final beauty treatment of hand sanding.

“When you really want to refine the finish of a piece, you hand sand it. Nothing is better than the human hand, because it will form to the piece much better than any [tool].”

Brown, a member of the Craftsmen’s Guild of Mississippi, will have exhibited at 16 juried art shows by year’s end, including the guild’s 41st annual Chimneyville Crafts Festival, Nov. 30 - Dec. 2 in Jackson.

He plans to attend fewer festivals next year, however, and make works of a more manageable size. “I’m getting ready to probably drop down to exact half-size horse heads. I’m just getting too old to haul everything around,” Brown said.

The life-size horse heads he currently makes weigh from 150 to 200 pounds and the benches up to 350 pounds.

Brown’s smaller works include wine bottle balancers; bowls for holding cell phones, food or to hang as wall art; and sculptures of college football mascots. He accepts commissions for any size work.

The move nine years ago to rural Yazoo County turned out well for this artist. His neighbors even help support his work by offering wood from their property. “Everyone is so great.... I mean, I don’t buy wood. Everybody gives me all this wood,” Brown said.

For more information, contact Alexander Brown at 228-209-9663 or 662-755-8009. View more of his work at

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