Interior of The Ice House Gallery, McIntosh, FL
Interior of The Ice House Gallery, McIntosh, Florida. Photo by Martin Gates

by Gary Haskins

As seen in Antiques & Art Around Florida, Summer/Fall 1997

It is no secret that the State of Florida has more than its share of natural beauty and inspiration. Artistic talent not only finds a home here, but often blossoms to full maturity. The real secret seems to be in finding those dedicated and gifted artists responsible for the work reflecting the highest aesthetic standards.


HALLTREE
HALLTREE, George Ferreira. Heart pine and weathered pine posts. 40" x 76" x 15".
Photos by Randy Batista.
So come with me down miles of quiet, sandy limerock roads, tucked back into rustic settings, to visit two artists working in central Florida who are sharing their expert abilities with the world. Superior craftsmen with wood, George Ferreira and Martin Gates have already taken their art to levels usually reserved for grandmasters.

Ferreira and Gates have been part of "Florida's coming of age" artistically for many years, the last twenty-five or so centered around the small town\s of Micanopy and McIntosh, south of Gainesville. Here in "cracker" Florida, not far from where Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings wrote The Yearling, these two artists, working separately, have been creating pieces of beauty loosened and released from the hard grasp of the tree.

These artworks soar far above the stiff and soulless wood sculpture cranked out with power tools and little imagination. This is wood that continues to live!

Using mostly beautiful hand tools bequeathed by fathers and grandfathers, Gates and Ferreira work with patience and foresight to "do what it takes" to produce the best. Their deep love for the work gives it a spirit and individuality that's rare, and therefore very collectable.



EAGLE WITH BASS, Martin Gates. Walnut. 36" x 36" x 32"
Gates is a wildlife and bird carver and winner of the World Championship in Interpretive Sculpture at the 1987 Ward Foundation Wildlife Carving Competition. Perhaps no bird sculptor in America has come further, faster than Gates, who has also won at the Minnesota Masters Competition, and the Gulf-South in New Orleans. In the last ten years, he has gathered many more winning ribbons while expanding his range of subjects, which recently included a life-sized Florida panther and even some human torsos in stone.

Ferreira came to Micanopy in 1969 and began his career in furniture design and construction and sculpture. Along with custom woodworking, he sold a wide selection of beautiful early hand tools at his first business, Micanopy Tool & Apparatus.

Ferreira studied with several outstanding craftsmen and uses either hand or power tools with uncommon expertise. He has taken home the BellSouth Award, 1988, and the Award of Distinction from the Spring Arts Festival in Gainesville; his work is in the Orlando City Hall permanent collection, and outstanding private collections throughout the state.

The REAL magic will happen when you see the work created by these two ... you'll never look at wood the same way again!

Although their styles of expression are quite different, both Gates and Ferreira know how to bring the best out of their material. Both love nature and natural processes, so nothing is rushed and shortcuts are avoided. The wood is slowly seasoned, its shapes and grain studied over a period of years. As the work is visualized, the tools and artistic spirit are sharpened for the tasks ahead. Gates says, "I like the romance of carving with old tools. I like the traditional ways of working with wood."

Gates specializes in wading birds and birds of prey. He is inspired by the grace of herons and egrets, the power and drama of raptors. He studies the bones, feathers and behavior of his subjects. It's important to understand that Gates interprets nature rather than copies it. He works his feelings and experiences into each sculpture instead of slavishly copying shape and texture. What we see in nature is just the starting point for the FULL story behind each of Martin's carvings.


Florida Ranch Bench
FLORIDA RANCH BENCH, George Ferreira. Walnut with bamboo, 86" x 16" x 28"
Ferreira is a genius at putting nature's beauty and eccentric forms into the spotlight in new ways that have surprised and delighted art and furniture collectors for years. Inside his studio, raw unfinished wood pieces call out to those who have ears to hear; they voice a longing to be saved from rot or fire and given new life. George hears and honors the call.

Ferreira acknowledges the influences of Shaker and Japanese aesthetics in his work, but the results are undoubtedly uniquely his own. Many of his works have given birth to a regional style he calls Japanese/Florida Ranch Style furniture. His favorite materials include resinous Florida pitch pine, the hard-as-nails "pickled oak", giant timber bamboo, driftwood, and discards from any and all woodpiles.

Most of Ferreira's furniture is a tour de force of woodworking skill and design, destined, it seems, for the museums and collections called America's best. But he also creates imaginative sculpture out of wood and found goods that's both humorous and challenging. Furniture with rocks and bones, figures and faces from twisted roots or limbs, and working light fixtures from old toys, helmets and weather-vanes round out and give variety to his usually traditional approach. These two artists are not concerned with where art historians say they should fit. Their realized works are eternal and free of inhibition, heartfelt and born of courage, self-determination and joy. Through their patience and hard work, we can experience creation and imagination on a very high level.

Ferreira and Gates have teamed up with Barney Gardiner, an antiques expert, to open a wonderful new gallery called The Icehouse Gallery in McIntosh. Open on Saturdays and Sundays and also by appointment (352-591-5930), it is rapidly becoming a place of pilgrimage for artists, collectors and dealers seeking contemporary masterpieces of wood, sculpture, ceramics, paintings and glass; Gardiners's collection of beautifully maintained carriages, buggies, antique wagons and furniture of days gone by, makes this a great place to visit and be inspired and reminded of man's harmony with nature.


About the Author:
Gary M. Haskins was born in the District of Columbia in 1944, and has been a full-time artist in various media for 30 years, including five in Japan, working with master craftsmen in Bizenware ceramics. Haskins shows his work in galleries and at local and national exhibitions whenever possible. A resume is available on request and includes three exhibitions in Japan. He has given workshops and talks at numerous universities, judged art competitions, and sponsored an art gallery for 14 years. He has illustrated a book on Japanese martial arts, produced three books of his own poetry, and received national recognition for his oriental ink and brush paintings (sumi-e) and pastel drawings.


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