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Curiouser and curiouser

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Woodworing artist Adam McNamara at his workshop in Upper LaHave, N.S. Photo: Bruce Murray/VisionFire

Artist Adam McNamara finds inspiration in the Acadian forest

Adam McNamara describes his artistic style as “halfway between reality and Alice in Wonderland.”

McNamara is a self-taught woodworker with a love for nature. Based in Upper LaHave, N.S., he came upon the craft by chance when a neighbour was moving out of his own woodworking shop. He had a bunch of wood scraps that were no longer of use to him, so he offered them to McNamara.

“I said, ‘Well, yeah. I’ll take it all,’ not knowing what I was going to do with it,” says McNamara. Over the winter of 2019, he began experimenting with carving. Then, when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, McNamara needed an outlet. His work evolved from there.

McNamara’s art is largely inspired by the nature of the Acadian forest region, which covers the Maritimes. He has an educational background in plant science, including mycology: the study of fungi. Many of McNamara’s pieces are mushrooms or insects. 

“I’ve always had that love and appreciation for how every organism within a certain ecosystem contributes to the whole,” he says. He believes that while the Acadian forest ecology is unique,
it doesn’t often get the admiration it deserves. “I wanted to bring those organisms to the forefront, because they’re not really appreciated.”

Just a few months after he first started carving, McNamara began sharing photos of his pieces online. A couple of local people expressed interest in buying his work, and one of the patrons suggested McNamara start an Instagram account. Although McNamara didn’t even know what a hashtag was at the time, he took the advice and started an account using the name “Acadian Mushrooms.” He then started making pieces with the intention of selling them, instead of simply carving “for fun.” 

These days, McNamara has more than 11,000 Instagram followers. More valuable than that, however, is the large and supportive artistic community on the platform.

“That really kind of motivates you,” he says. 

McNamara started his woodworking journey by carving unwanted scraps, and that method has stayed with him. His materials are “just like my subject matter: things that are underappreciated,” he says. “Whether it’s thrown into a woodstove or left in a box in a closet somewhere, it’s forgotten about. That’s where I come in.”

Despite being leftovers, the pieces of wood still have plenty to offer. McNamara explains he gets a variety of exotic wood and aims to let its natural colour and texture shine through in his work. He also uses real lichens and moss, but doesn’t disrupt living organisms. He often goes out after a storm and picks up fallen pieces from the forest floor. 

The results range from book ends to standing sculptures and wall art. Taking inspiration directly from nature means McNamara’s pieces are imperfect, because “nature is not perfect,” he says. “If I just carved a mushroom that was perfect on every side, it could be made by a machine, but it would not look real.”

At the same time, the work requires precision. “They still have to look beautiful. A lot of times, I try to make my pieces look good from every angle,” says McNamara. “You’re basically capturing a moment in time.”

McNamara strikes a balance between realistic and whimsical. Even if he’s basing a sculpture of a specific species of mushroom, for example, he doesn’t try to mimic the exact shape from a photo or physical plant. 

“It’s almost like impressionism. If you look at a scenery and then you close your eyes and try to paint it just from your memory — that’s basically how I create my art.”

Other times, McNamara is drawn to a specific piece of wood, and lets the material guide him. 

Even with his larger works, McNamara does little planning. This helps him bring his impressions of nature alive in a “perfectly imperfect” way.

“They’re literally just a piece of the forest. They do look real, but they’re also pretty. And they’re a conversation piece.” 

Rebecca Dingwell

East Coast Living