GLENVILLE, WV – “When I carve and paint a bird, my objective is quite naturally to show the important identification markings, but above all, I try to capture the beauty of the bird – the beauty of shape and the beauty of color as I see it.” Those were the words of the late Claude Kemper, master wood carver and designer of the collection entitled ‘The Birds of My Hollow.’ His collection was given to Glenville State College (GSC) as a gift in 2000. It remains an exquisite showpiece of the College’s Robert F. Kidd Library.
Claude and his wife Ethel met at Glenville State College (then Glenville State Teachers College) while both were earning normal school teaching certificates in the 1930s. Later in life, the pair worked together crafting wooden birds until Ethel’s death in 1998. Claude passed away in 2004.
Kemper received the inspiration for his bird carvings from the 150-acre farm of his childhood located on Tanner Creek Road in Glenville, West Virginia. He decided to create a collection entitled ‘The Birds of My Hollow’ that contained only the species of birds that could be found in the hollow in which the Kemper farm was located. The end result included 45 different bird species. Kemper eventually created ten complete sets. In 2000, he gifted one of those sets to his alma mater. To make his collection unique, he created a centerpiece entitled ‘Feathers of Yellow.’ This one-of-a-kind centerpiece includes ten separate birds perched on a base made of basswood, a species of tree that grows readily in West Virginia. The RFK Library also has another unique Kemper piece entitled ‘Joy of Spring’ that was donated by the family.
The carvings are mounted to driftwood bases that were collected from lakes throughout the state. The birds are protected by display cases made of wild cherry wood donated by Kemper’s friend John Cooper. Retired GSC Physical Plant employee Tom Wellings built the cases, which are works of art in their own right.
GSC Associate Professor of Art Duane Chapman said, “These are an excellent example of museum quality naturalistic art work done by an artist who not only interpreted what he had grown up with, but captured the passion of the subject matter in which he had mastered.” Chapman added, “It is an artwork that can be passed down from generations.”
‘The Birds of My Hollow’ is on display on the first floor of the Robert F. Kidd Library.