For 46 years South Carolina native Grainger McKoy has turned wood into wings. His carvings of birds at rest, in flight, and in conflict with nature are well known to both hunters and birders. The detail is extraordinary, enough so that at first glance many pieces appear to be taxidermy. In typical modesty and humor, he says “All I do is remove wood. How I make a living is I know when to stop.”
Possibly his most prominent piece is a carving of a pintail wing, originally commissioned by the Hollings Cancer Center in Charleston. The upright sculpture captures the wing in its recovery stroke and is accordingly titled “Recovery.”
“Over the years, having looked at photographs and watched film of birds in flight, the recovery position seemed to be the one with the most beauty and the one that was the most intricate,” says McKoy. “Yet it’s the weakest wing position. Weakness is where the truth comes out, and all of us, somewhere in our lives, are in recovery.”
Many of his wood carvings have later been cast in various metals. This was the case when a botanical garden asked for a larger version of “Recovery” for outside display. The model was initially done in wood in multiple parts, taken to a foundry where each was individually cast in stainless steel, then welded together. The assembled metal wing, over 12 feet tall, was returned to McKoy for the finishing touches.
An offshoot of his sculpture began when he carved a few small birds and feathers, casting them in silver and gold for his wife to wear. People soon asked where they could buy these pins and earrings, and before long it became a business in itself. McKoy hints that, as far as his time and efforts are concerned, it’s not likely to overshadow the larger carvings any time soon.
“Quite frankly, I don’t know anything about jewelry. I just know half the world wants it and the other half’s gotta give it to them.”
His work will be on display at the Greenville County Museum of Art through July 2017.