As a little boy in Jamaica, Elton Braithwaite took an old screwdriver that he found on the side of the road, sharpened it into a chisel, and began to carve wood.
What he didn’t know at the time was that this screwdriver would lead to a lifetime of wood carving.
Today, more than 50 years and thousands of pieces later, he continues to carve as well as educate the next generation.
Connecting Point Producer Dave Fraser speaks with Braithwaite about his prolific career as a wood sculptor.
Hear Braithwaite talk about one of his favorite sculptures, “Tree Spirit,” in this digital exclusive.
Read the full transcript:
Zydalis Bauer, Connecting Point: As a little boy in Jamaica, Elton Braithwaite took an old screwdriver that he found on the side of the road, sharpened it into a chisel, and began to carve wood. Not knowing it at that time, that screwdriver would lead to a lifetime of wood carving.
Today, more than 50 years and thousands of pieces later, he continues to carve as well as educate the next generation. And he shares his story with producer Dave Fraser.
Elton Braithwaite, Wood Sculptor: And this is my life. I spend my — my time alone most of the time, just carving and listening to music, because music really inspires me to do what I do.
Dave Fraser, Connecting Point: With chisel and hammer, Granby artist Elton Braithwaite transforms old tree trunks, roots, and branches into delicate and dramatic works of art.
The 73-year-old native of Jamaica says the work he does is possible because of the respect he has for the wood and the spirit of every tree.
Elton Braithwaite: You cannot carve a piece of wood without the spirit. I cannot approach it. I have to take — take a piece of wood, and I keep it here for over a year sometimes, before I can feel the energy of it, the vibration of it, the direction of it.
And then I carve.
Dave Fraser: On a recent weekday in April, we found Braithwaite in his backyard, carving amongst the many sculptures he has created. Out front are more, and inside his living room even more.
He describes his work as both unique and ancient. It is diverse and multicultural. It is spiritual, created first by Mother Nature, then revealed by the artist himself.
Elton Braithwaite: And always know that you never make a piece of work for yourself, for your collection. You always create for other people, for the world. To see — to see something that never exist.
Dave Fraser: Braithwaite was the youngest of 12 children growing up in Jamaica. He studied at a Jamaican art school, winning some awards and scholarships.
He moved to this region from New Jersey in 1982, and since that time has become a familiar figure in both artistic and educational circles.
Elton Braithwaite: But there’s only one Elton, so far right now. I won’t be here forever. So, that’s my number one thing: give it back.
I really do classes, also. I do classes here. And during that time it’s not only about carving, it’s about life experience. So, I try to get into your world. To see what’s in you, what I — what I can help you with. ‘Cause I got to do it.
So, what I’m doing is just really shaping it. And this is the first process that you’ve got to do when you carve.
Dave Fraser: Braithwaite prefers hardwoods like maple, black walnut, cedar, and ash.
His art has landed in galleries in exhibits across New England and in other parts of the country, as well as in his homeland of Jamaica.
Elton Braithwaite: When you have the wood outside and it rains and go through the weather, it changes and become its own.
Because this wood is actually bleeding. You can see it’s red inside here. But that’s — that’s the — that’s what was in the wood, you know? Maple trees, they make syrup from it. And that’s all these thing, you can see that it’s really true. It’s a maple — maplewood.
The process of wood carving is hard work. I can say. Hard work. The thing is, you have to commit your energy, your spirit, to what you’re doing. Using a mallet and have a chisel in this hand and going like this all day long, is not a joke. This is some serious work!
That’s why I called my hands the hands of one, man. Because it’s not my hands. Somebody else is using it to do that. It’s a great energy. It’s a labor of love. I’ve been doing this all my life.