Heart of Louisiana: Wood carving at False River

Artist Henry Watson
Artist Henry Watson

There is something special about these old plantation homes.  They have a history that goes back more than a century.

Henry Watson grew up near these aging houses at False River.  He studies their shapes, the weathered wooden fence, the animals in the yard, and the way the massive oak trees cast their shadows.

"When I'm taking pictures I make sure that I capture everything in the picture, 'cause I look at it as I'm taking it in a 3-D image," says Watson

Watson is an artist who creates images in three dimensions.  His chisel bites into the wood at different depths for the foreground, middle, and background.

"I'm making the tree starting to shape out, and then the cabin will come in next and the fence all will come in," says Watson.

After two weeks of chipping into the grains of wood and adding color, the story of these unique Louisiana scenes – the homes, the people, the trees and wildlife – are forever etched into old pieces of cypress.  It's the only kind of wood that Watson uses in his carvings.  What's more, the board has to be at least 100 years old.

The old boards are larger. They come from a time of giant virgin trees.  To Watson, they have the wisdom of old age.

"If these boards could talk, think about the stories they could tell," Watson says.  "These old cypress boards, over 150 years old on the building, but the trees that it came from could have been 300 years old. So you start adding up all of these years, the history of the cypress tells the story."

Watson began carving wood in a high school art class.  But it was on drives down the back roads of Louisiana, with his blind grandmother, that he says he learned how to see.

"I would drive through and I'd explain to her every flower that I've seen," Watson recalls.  "The pathways to the house, the trees the birds, you know, keeping in mind that she can't see all of that. So in my creation I was trying to create things that she didn't see, but yet she could feel with her hands."

The chiseled wood is the perfect medium for these rustic Louisiana scenes.  The wood tells the story, through the eyes and hands of an artist.

Watson's wood carving studio is located next to Parlange Plantation in the town of Livonia on False River.