Broken Promise

Back in 2011 I made a promise that I couldn’t keep. My daughter-in-law asked me to make her an intarsia hummingbird. Like always, I dove into the project only to learn that I was not skilled enough to make a hummingbird out of wood. Hummingbirds are tiny. This month I searched the internet for the smallest bird on the planet, only to find out that the Ruby Throat hummingbird is not the smallest. There is a species that is found only in Cuba called the Bee Hummingbird. It is almost half the size of a ruby throated humming bird. Nature just raised the bar on me.

Over the years, I have acquired more skill in Intarsia, and some better equipment too. I decided to give the bird a try. I began by finding the old pattern I had from 2011. The bird on the pattern is huge I thought. Not a realistic hummingbird but one that would be relatively easy to cut. I searched for more patterns only to learn that most intarsia artists make the birds large, almost like I am looking at the bird through a microscope.

I never found a pattern that I liked so I set out to make my own. Google images has pictures galore of humming birds and I found one that was in the correct pose for my piece. I matched the bird against a hibiscus flower which is one of its favorites to feed from. I made a pattern for the flower, a single bloom, and another for the bird, in scale or as close as I could eyeball the true size.

One problem I had with the bird pattern was to get a good photo of the wings. When a humming bird hovers and stands still his wings are beating at 200 strokes per second. Yep you read that right it is 200 hundred strokes per second not minute, they are a blur. For someone like me who is trying to copy the bird in wood that means I have to find some really slo-motion pictures to get an idea of what they look like while beating. I finally decided I can make the wings look like whatever, and no one can challenge me because no one will ever be able to see these wings standing still. That took some pressure off of my mind so I could proceed.

The next challenge was in trying to make something that tiny in two dimensions but looking like it is in three dimensions. I started out that way but changed my mind when I could not see the beauty of the bird in clunky two dimensional wood. I had to make the bird in three dimensions. the next challenge was to determine how to position the bird so it looked real against a flower. When a Hummer hovers up to the flower to suck the nectar out of its stamen he is virtually motionless and not touching the flower in any visible way. I could not see how to put the two forms together in a way that the final product would be believably real. The only way out was to make a flower, and a separate hummingbird and to design a way to make the bird seem like it was hovering in mid-air just microns away from the flower stamen. I won’t divulge my secret, but I made it look real.

When I finally began this work I was coming off a piece titled “Three Roses” which wore me down. The pieces were very tiny and delicate and there were too many of them. I thought the humming bird would be a vacation piece. My initial estimate was two to three weeks. I jumped into the pattern and made it quickly, then selected the woods and began cutting. In about a week I had the flower and the bird cut from the woods. I set it aside for what reason I do not recall, but it sat from May until November, and then I took it up again. And I spent three more weeks finishing the bird and flower.
As in all art work the frame is important in order to showcase the center piece. I decided on a rectangular frame with an elliptical opening for the art. I am an amateur wood worker even after seventy years of practicing. The damn frame almost broke me. The simplest of all cuts became a nightmare, the 45 degree corners. For the life of me I could not get the 45 degree cuts to match when put together. I think I was at 44. 85 degrees and not 45.00 degrees. The end result was a frame that had large openings between sides. I started with an 18 x 14 size frame and before I finished it was down to 17 x 13. I had to continue to trim the pieces until I could get the corners to match perfectly. Since I only make one or to frames a year I will never be able to afford the precision equipment I need to make forty-five degree cuts perfect. The result is in the photos below. I’m still deciding whether my daughter-in-law will get the work.

Enough talking it is time to unveil the masterpiece. “Hummer Breakfast”

4 Responses

  1. I have never, seen such great craftsmanship and detail of a hummingbird that size. You are to be congratulated on your accomplishment, Grumpa Joe!

  2. This is incredible!

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