Photo by Melody

Wooden Birds: The Carving Art of Murray Springthorpe

By Glynis Ward (girlgroupgirlFebruary 17, 2008

My uncle left an unlikely legacy when he passed away a few years ago. He left his beloved wife Mabel with a large collection of very life-like carved wooden birds, birds that he saw in their native habitats of Ontario, Canada.

Gardening picture

Murray Springthorpe always had very skilled hands. As a teenager he carved his own set of wooden cross-country skis, and as an adult worked as a mechanical engineer, first on ships, then at The Scarborough General Hospital. When Uncle Murray retired, his interest in shipping led him to begin carving ships. Each and every detail was captured with tiny perfection. Those ships are truly amazing works of art. He worked on several ships, but they took so long to complete, and were so large he found that they were difficult to display at home. However, Uncle Murray also had a love for nature. He grew up in the small, rural town of Victoria Harbor, which sits on the shores of Lake Huron and is surrounded by wooded areas and natural animal habitats. Soon Uncle Murray switched from carving ships to carving birds and some animals.


The birds were much smaller and easier to display, and each one had their own individual challenges. When showing you his most recent work, he would explain the differences in each wing, each feather and how he achieved such lifelike appearance. His inspiration came from living in Swan Lake, a development in Markham, Ontario with a beautiful, naturalized man-made lake – home to several swans and many ducks, and sometimes used as a landing pad for herons and other birds.


He would search out pictures of the birds he wanted to carve, and use the photos as a guide. To augment the birds, Uncle Murray would sometimes show the bird on a naked or flowering branch. Each flower and grain of branched wood was carved with as much realistic detail as the bird – as Uncle Murray was also a gardener who knew the delicacy of an apple blossom petal and could translate that into a piece of wood.



These beautiful carved birds are an unlikely legacy, because if you had just met my uncle, you would not really think his massively powerful hands could carve such delicate and exquisite detail. You see, Uncle Murray was 6’ 6” – and as big and muscular as he was tall. He cut an imposing figure, but had a mind that was equally as sharp and imposing. Spending time with activities that were precise and calculated where expected of such a man, but combining those interests with an artistic eye and such fine-fingered talent was not.


My aunt is now surrounded by memories of my Uncle, and in the cold winter days of Southern Ontario is reminded of fairer weather. The cherry blossoms and returning robins, warmed waters and Great White Heron my Uncle brought to life are displayed throughout their home, leaving lasting memories for those who loved him.


In Memory of Murray Springthorpe: 1921-2005

  About Glynis Ward  
Glynis Ward Music, color and gardening - the three go hand in hand in my Electric Garden. I enjoy gardening organically for 12 months of the year in the South and am garden speaker and educator, coach and designer. I write about rock'n roll, vintage fashion and of course, gardening.

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