A native of Sunset, Louisiana, artist Travis J. Huval began wood carving in 2000. Born in 1978, Huval discovered his latent talent when his father, crawfisherman Kernis Huval, asked him to carve a replica
of a crawfish from cypress. The younger Huval inadvertently realized his ability and interest in wood carving. Since that first piece in 2000, Huval has carved numerous pieces from many types of wood. Huval says that he generally allows the wood itself to determine the final creation, rather than attempting to manipulate the wood into a predetermined form. Often the wood leads him to the shape of a face or mask. Some woods inspire creatures of nature such as dragonflies and crawfish. Huvals preferred woods are those with uniform density, such as mahogany, teak and mangrove, though he enjoys the challenge of working with any wood and often works with relatively difficult specimens. Many of the woods that Huval uses are donated to him by friends and acquaintances. Thus far, his finished pieces include the following woods:
· Cypress · Mangrove · Eastern red cedar · Black cherry · Tulip poplar · Ash · Oak (white and red) · Myrtlewood · Paduk · Teak · Walnut
Often Huval works with green wood-wood that hasnt seasoned over a period of time-largely because such seasoning can require months or even years. Much of the wood is salvaged from downed trees, and Huval usually does not know the date of the trees demise. Working with the wood of downed trees means the wood has often been damaged by bugs, decay, and the elements, posing challenges to the carver. Huval allows the wood to cure for anywhere from a day to several months or even years, depending on when he is ready to carve it.
Regarding tools, Huval says he uses anything that moves wood, including hand driven tools, chisels, ads, rotary tools, drills, rasps, sandpaper, scrapers, a chainsaw and a handsaw. He has no standard means of beginning a piece, except to start with whatever tool will remove the most wood.
Once each piece is carved, Huval allows it to dry a minimum of one month in a climate-controlled environment-the longer, the better.
Many of the pieces are finished with a basic lacquer, which Huval finds easier to work with than other types of finishes. He usually applies three coats of lacquer over a three hour period. Then he places the piece in a climate-controlled environment for two to four weeks, at which point he will sand it to his liking and add another coat of lacquer, allowing it to dry a minimum of one week. At this stage, Huval buffs the piece to its final finish. If he disapproves of the final finish, he may repeat some of the finishing steps until it meets his approval.
Huval faces several challenges in working with each wood. Among the biggest challenges he faces are moisture exchange and unseen defects such as insect damage, cracks, and interlocking grain or sudden changes in the direction of the grain. Another challenge is determining each woods ability or inability to support a particular design. Resins and oils from the wood tend to build up on the tools, posing problems in the finishing stages especially when the tools must be constantly cleaned.
Regarding his ideas for designs, Huval has no formal training in wood carving. His works have been created exclusively by intuition. Currently, Huval is seeking to expand into stone carving and intends to acquire formal training for his work with stone. From there, Huval would like to expand into other media while continuing his work with wood.