Julia M. Dendinger | News-Bulletin photo

Doing what hawks do, a Cooper’s hawk and its prey are captured by Belen woodcarver Ron Beauchamp.

BELEN — “Well, I cut the profile, you know, then remove wood until it looks like it wants to look.”

The process as described by woodcarver Ron Beauchamp sounds simple enough, and maybe for a small billy goat or a silhouette mouse, it rings true.

For a carving of a life-sized Cooper’s hawk pinning down it’s limp prey, one can’t help but feel there’s a little more to it.

Beauchamp shrugs and chuckles when that point is made. He’s come a long way since that first small goat he carved at 14 years old, now creating true-to-life carvings of all kinds of feathered fowl, from great horned owls to roadrunners.

While working as a kitchen helper at a YMCA camp, Beauchamp found himself needing something to do when wasn’t helping. He found a piece of wood and a sharp knife and set free the little goat. It has a broken horn now and a finish that comes from frequent handling, but he still stands sturdy.

Now almost 90, Beauchamp and his wife, Ela, have settled down in Belen by way of California and Arizona. There are wooden bird parts everywhere at the couples’ home, and a freezer dedicated to reference specimens.

Julia M. Dendinger | News-Bulletin photo

Belen woodcarver Ron Beauchamp stands next to his great horned owl carving at the Belen Art League Gallery.

Julia M. Dendinger | News-Bulletin photo

A departure from his usual wild fowl carvings, a small mouse by carver Ron Beauchamp watches from the edge of a desk.

Growing up in Los Angeles, Beauchamp learned how to do taxidermy from his father, who was also a falconer.

At one point, he owned a sign company, which necessitated a good deal of woodcarving, so when Beauchamp retired, he decided he wanted a hobby that would use a lot of the tools he already had.

“I was going to make fake, antique decoy ducks,” Beauchamp said, pausing. “I made one and it was miserable — it’s horrible.”

While ducks proved not to be his cup of tea, he was still drawn to fowl, so while doing research at a library in an attempt to make the ducks more palatable, he came across a section of books dedicated to realistic bird carving.

“I was really into things like that, so I thought, ‘Well, I’ll try that and just kept at it,’” he said. “It’s like a disease. You may think it looks real, but it’s an illusion. That’s why I like it because you can’t get bored. You just can’t do it.”

Julia M. Dendinger | News-Bulletin photo

The first figure Ron Beauchamp ever carved was a small Billy goat when he was 14.

Most of Beauchamp’s work is made from solid blocks of tupelo out of the Louisiana swamps.

“I have pieces of (tupelo) that are 25 years old that have never cracked,” he said. “They never change. They’re just like that from day one.”

Before he starts a new bird, Beauchamp usually has what’s euphemistically called a reference sample.

“I get a dead one,” he says frankly. “Somebody will give me one, or I’ll find one. If not, I use photos.

Using his reference materials, the carver creates realistic tableaus — a Cooper’s hawk, wings flared, with a song bird under one taloned foot. That piece actually started with the dead prey, Beauchamp said.

“I wanted to see if I could make one. Then I thought, ‘What am I gonna’ do with it?’”

While he wanted to portray the realty of the raptor, he didn’t want to be distasteful.

“You can’t have a lot of gore and stuff, so I had to show distress some other way,” he said.

On the rock where the limp bird lays are two small feathers, letting the viewer understand the outcome.

“I think people know what hawks do. You don’t need to be gross with it.”

Julia M. Dendinger | News-Bulletin photo

Belen woodcarver Ron Beauchamp holds a delicate wooden hummingbird in progress.

The stately great horned owl is an interesting piece in that while the tree branch it’s perched on may look like a piece of found wood, it was actually carved out of a block of wood by Beauchamp to mimic a dead piece of a tree.

“I had to study algae to get it right,” he said, pointing to the blue green splotches on the wood. “I actually need to touch those up a bit. I’m a perfectionist.”

Beauchamp estimates he has completed nearly 100 pieces, with some taking upwards of two years to finish.

“I’ll be working on something and kind of burn out, so I’ll stop and go start something new. I have parts of birds all around the house.”

Beauchamp also makes small pieces, such as hummingbirds and, because they are so small, he also carves a habitat for them, including whimsical twists of wire.

“I’m making a fuchsia as a habitat for the hummingbird. You have to figure out how to make it look like it’s in flight without showing people,” he said. “Maybe it’s flying right by a branch and there’s a little place where the toe touches it. Tricks of the trade.”

He also makes little mice, softly curved and angled to sit perfectly on a shelf, their little brown amber bead eyes watching patiently as you work.

Carving is an art of patience, Beauchamp says.

“I have blocks of wood in the garage and I have to see that bird in there,” he said. “It’s hard to explain, but if I’m not really into it, it will never get done.”

Beauchamp’s work is on display at the Belen Art League Gallery, 509 Becker Ave., Belen. The gallery is open 12-5 p.m, Tuesday through Saturday.

What’s your Reaction?

Julia M. Dendinger began working at the VCNB in 2006. She covers Valencia County government, Belen Consolidated Schools and the village of Bosque Farms. She is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists Rio Grande chapter’s board of directors.