Woodcarver’s art to support Onset Fireworks

Jun 18, 2019

Seeing Mark Madden’s work for the first time, many people’s first impulse is to reach out and touch his carvings of owls and other birds. The intricately carved owls look as if they could be downy and soft to the touch like the beings that inspired them -- or like they might fly away as you reached out to them.

"There's something really magical about owls," said Madden.

One of the rooms in his home is the headquarters of "Obsessed with Owls," his woodcarving studio. The studio is filled with carvings in various stages of completion from roughly cut blocks to startlingly realistic finished pieces, many perched on driftwood Madden has collected.

Madden has donated many pieces to charity, and on Thursday people will have the opportunity to bid on a piece custom-made for Onset at the Annual Auction to support the Onset Fireworks.

"I just saw that hole in that tree [in Dudley Square], and thought, 'That's the kind of hole I'd expect an owl to be in,'" Madden said of his inspiration for the piece that will be auctioned off on Thursday to support the Onset Fireworks.

He put his plan into action by talking to Kat Jones of the Onset Bay Association and got to work carving an owl perfectly sized to fit in the hole. When the tree had to be cut down, the section with the hole was saved.

The section of the tree that houses the owl will be auctioned off alongside a driftwood carving of a whale by Madden at Thursday's event to support the fireworks.

Madden works to make his carvings as realistic as possible, down to the angle of the owl's posture, the relative number and direction of feathers, and the expression of the owl's eyes. He is always trying to make the sculptures look weightless and as if they could take off at any moment.

"Balancing it so it looks natural is so important," said Madden.

Making sure that the feathers have a bit of scruff, and that the owl is in a posture that is natural, and not too straight up-and-down in a way that could make it look like an anatomical model are  priorities for Madden.

"You don't want it to be too perfect. That's the one part of woodcarving I've got down pat," Madden laughed.

Once the owl is carved, he paints the feathers in a painstaking process. Because he wants the owls to be as realistic as possible, he applies paint in many thin layers.

Although he started woodcarving in the nineties and began carving more seriously over the past five or six years, Madden is still focused on learning new skills and improving his work.

"Each bird is a learning process," Madden said. He is largely self-taught from books and magazines, but he now takes lessons from another woodcarver.

Some of Madden’s works are for sale and on display at ECHO. For more information, go to Madden’s Facebook page, www.facebook.com/pg/ObsessedwithOwlsWoodcarvingStudio.