On the cutting edge
By MIKE SCARANTINO
© St. Petersburg Times, published February 17, 2001
At 59, Newcomer is a deliberate winter resident and woodcarver. He carves fish and travels between Mary's Fish Camp and his home base in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. He much prefers the warmth of the winters in Florida. "Beats carving all cooped up by the wood stove," Newcomer said.
Saying that Newcomer's creations are marvelous is an understatement. Their design and coloring are reminiscent of the real McCoys. He's carved marlin, tuna, bluefish and whales, and now he's doing trout, redfish, snook and mackerel. Often, it's conversation around the waterfront that inspires him to carve. Newcomer was reared along the New Jersey shore. His father was a charter boat captain. Those influences are evident in his work. Many of his carvings come from memories of the fishing boats his dad skippered. Newcomer has been a freelance artist for over 30 years, though his carvings began just seven years ago. He spent 10 years in the corporate world as a commercial artist for an ad agency in Manhattan, but that didn't suit him. Newcomer is a solitary type who revels in the quiet ambiance of places such as his rustic 16-acre home in the mountains and Mary's camp. In between the two, he travels the craft show circuit up and down the east coast, selling his pieces. In the beginning, Newcomer created colorfully painted personalized nameplates for homes. The nameplates werepopular with many people. Fish came into the picture just five years ago when his granddaughter asked him to help her fashion a fish from some branches. You can tell Newcomer is an inspired artist in that he works only when the mood suits him -- no matter what time of day or night, though noon seems to be his witching hour. Mornings at Mary's begin slowly. The peaceful quiet atmosphere and gentle conversation over cups of hot coffee lend themselves to lazy beginnings. Chores around Newcomer's camper trailer usually are what gets done first. Then, as activity levels in the campground rise, so does his mood for more artistic endeavors. "I like getting a few of the less pleasant chores done first, then I'll pick up a piece and a knife and go to work."
Each stroke of his blade seems to inspire the next, and as he whittles, the piece begins to take form. As I watched, he was working on sea trout, and its tail was just beginning to take shape. The block of wood Newcomer was working had an upward sweep in the back, which made the tail seem more lifelike. With gentle pressure, his knife sliced through the rich grain of the wood. It was a piece of white cedar, and its pungent aroma soon hit my nostrils, adding an extra dimension to the experience.
Newcomer carves his creations from mill slabs. He finds the raw materials from mills throughout the northeastern states. Mostly, he enjoys working pieces of white pine or cedar. Mill ends are the first outer cut from a log as it is turned into lumber. The curved outer edges are perfect for his form of art. He starts by cutting them to rough shape with a saw, then the whittling begins. Newcomer has a few mechanical tools, but he prefers being able to feel the wood while working with his utility knife. "I go through a lot of blades and a few good pair of jeans," he said. Newcomer generally carves in his lap, and his pants do show the evidence of a few near misses. Besides the quality of his carving, the coloring of his pieces capture your attention. The colors weren't painted over the wood but seemed to go deep into each piece. When questioned about it, Newcomer gave a quick overview of how he achieves the look. But like a magician, he doesn't show how his tricks are performed. It will be time for Newcomer to hit the road heading north again. Like a true nomad, he doesn't have a phone or a schedule -- other than the weather. As it improves, he gets the urge to move on.
If you have a question or comment, call Capt. Mike Scarantino at (352) 683-4868.
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