Tennessee sculptor Brad Sells explores the relationship between man and tree in his sculptural woodwork. He approaches each piece with a strong sense of reverence for his medium, aiming to enhance the wood's natural qualities, not change them.
"A tree is a selfless mentor inspiring me to reveal its beauty, its truth," says Sells.
From the studio in his hometown of Cookeville, TN, Sells begins the carving process with a hand-selected solid piece of wood anywhere from 15 to 300 pounds. The selection is intuitive, based on the wood's character—its color, texture, grain, growth rings, and even smell.
He then begins to carve, sometimes starting with a chainsaw and eventually moving to smaller, handheld tools. Starting from the wood's natural edge, he cuts deeper to reveal the tree's story as he follows the wood's natural patterns.
"As I carve deeper into a piece," says Sells, "I am carving through time and space captured in those growth rings. For me, it's like trying to grasp the universe."
Sells often likens his process to improvisational jazz—a freedom of exploration that becomes a form of meditation.
The results are intricate, uniquely shaped vessels. The tree’s history and character are enhanced by hand-tinting and embellishment influenced by the wood’s natural pattern.