“Wood does what it wants.”
Douglas Piper, a Greenville-based block print artist, reflects on his first medium. He remembers the childhood days spent exploring the “massive, massive workshop” of his grandfather, Clair Harold Hunt, a retired carpenter. Piper’s little hands carved Popsicle sticks alongside her larger “Paw Paw” projects.
Piper still struggles with wood today, cutting, chiseling and chipping every piece of block-printed artwork in her studio, which sits on the Reedy River in the Art Crossing Galleries in downtown Greenville. One of Piper’s favorite pieces is “The Most Exciting 25 Seconds in College Football,” a cheerful study in nostalgia.
“It takes a view of the stadium with all the balloons in your face and all the festivities as everyone runs up The Hill,” he says. “I wanted to create a print that honored that tradition.”
For this piece, Piper opted for a block of linoleum (her other favorite medium) rather than wood because it allows for a more detailed and precise end product needed for the many balloons etched into each layer.
“[Linoleum] is very easy to sculpt and does exactly what you want,” says Piper. “While the wood is organic, as you carve it may break or you may discover knots – who knows?”
Depending on the details and size of the project, sculpting can take “a few days to two weeks,” and more often than not, Piper draws inspiration from her favorite muse: the great outdoors.
“I did a very small series about where I would like to retire,” he says with a smile. “It’s usually at the foot of the mountains.”
When the carving is complete, Piper rolls ink over the block and presses it onto paper. Or cards or cardboard, whatever he experiments with. “I can either roll it in my printing press,” he says, “or I can take a spoon and burnish it by hand.”
In February, Piper opened an exhibition at the Sift Gallery in Greenville titled “Skies and Shorelines,” a collaboration with his multimedia artist wife, Meredith Piper, who works a short walk from his home. They met in her hometown of Shreveport, Louisiana when she was an art teacher and he had just graduated with a degree in packaging science from Clemson. And when Piper lost her grandfather in the mid-2000s, she inspired him to reclaim his heirloom: carving tools.
Together, the Pipers have turned their common passion into a profession. But they still take time to fill the creative well. At the end of March, they completed a month-long artist-in-residence program in Provence, France, where they traveled and created alongside other artists.
When asked what her grandfather would think of where his grandson and his woodworking tools are, Piper laughs, “Oh, I think he’d just be tickled.” He would probably have me carve a lot of his furniture if he was still making it.
With that in mind, Piper plans to continue creating, carving that stubborn wood — and crafting it.