John de Lang’s passion in life is more than just sculpture – it’s providing people a chance to peer into an unseen world.
For the majority of people, birds are only glimpsed in passing, seen from a distance as they flit from tree to tree. De Lang’s wood carvings offer a chance for the curious to get a close up look at an authentic replica of our feathered neighbours.
“I always liked the beauty of birds,” says John, who has been making his sculptures for the past 25 years. “I love the brilliance of the colours and the details of the feathers. They are also such graceful creatures.”
Now John has come together with Muskoka photographer Andy Zeltkalns for a show at the Chapel Gallery in Bracebridge titled Flights of Fancy.
The show, which features the 2D images of Zeltkalns and the sculpture of John de Lang runs until June 18.
The pair of artists became acquainted last year after both won awards of excellence at the Muskoka Arts and Crafts show for their work on birds. They connected shortly thereafter, and based on their mutual respect for one another’s work, decided to plan the joint show.
As part of the show the birds are grouped into three specific exhibits – birds of the garden, birds of the forest and birds of the wetlands. Each section comes with information posted on the walls about the birds and their environment.
“We wanted it to be a bit educational as well,” says Marilyn de Lang, who is John’s wife and helped design the exhibit. “It’s there to provide some context and we also wanted to generate excitement – not just for their work but for the subject material and how amazing birds are.”
Of key importance to John is making sure that the authenticity in his work shines through.
“You can’t see birds often. It’s either at a distance or they’re gone once you get near,” he says. “That’s the great thing about the carvings is that we can get the authenticity.”
Although some of the sculptures are based on images or drawings, others are based on frozen examples of the actual birds.
“We do have frozen birds in the freezer,” says Marilyn. “Sometimes people will call if they’ve hit a bird or found a bird. He wants to see the real thing where he can.”
John typically also likes to set the sculpture in a background that resembles their natural habitat – for instance a robin perched on a rusted rural mailbox or a hummingbird slipping from a flower. The birds are also created in different poses to make them appear as lifelike as possible.
“His big thing is authenticity,” says Marilyn. “I remember we were doing a show in Warkworth and someone came up to me and asked, ‘Are all of these dead or what?’ It was a little strange; especially considering one of them was a miniature blue heron.”
From humble beginnings taking a night course in sculpting 25 years ago, John has now hosted multiple shows and earlier this year beat out artists from across North America and Europe to win the Ward World Wildfowl Carving Championship in Maryland.
His next show comes in July in Barrie and his work can be seen year-round at the Albion in Gravenhurst.