Forget the framed photograph or pencil sketch of Fido; after his years of dedication, doesn't the family pooch deserve something unique? For a one-of-a-kind testimonial-and one that can also hold a remote control, vase of flowers or even the mail-check out Wooden It Be Lovely, the sculptural furniture of Herb Morgan.
A former illustrator and ad agency art director, Morgan is enjoying a second career that's a hit with clients who love his whimsical animal tables. Each one is made of as many as 24 layers of birch wood that are pegged and glued together to create a striking resemblance to the animal. Sometimes Morgan adds a head poking out through the tabletop, and other times a small glass or plastic tabletop balanced on the animal's back or shoulder. Morgan imbues each of his subjects with movement, both literal-hinges allow tails to wag and ears to flip up and down-and suggestive, in the splayed legs and slightly cocked head of a greyhound. Despite the solid nature of the wood, the layering makes some of the dogs actually look fluffy.
Morgan starts each piece by asking clients to give him photographs of the front, back and both sides of their pets. He then gets to work on figuring out the dimensions of the wooden layers. A friend in Atlanta saws the wood pieces and ships them to Morgan, who assembles them, paints them with acrylic and attaches the tabletops. Some pieces reveal his painterly eye, such as a blond Labrador retriever on whose legs and tabletop Morgan replicated the rose and ivy pattern of the wallpaper of the room for which the sculpture table was intended, or a blue tick hound covered in a graphic blue diamond pattern.
Creating the tables allows Morgan to enjoy two of his loves: art and working with his hands. As a child growing up in Miami and later in Tampa, he would sand the wooden pieces that his father, an avid craftsman, had sawed and shaped. Morgan studied art at Florida State University and worked in advertising in Atlanta for years, where he satisfied his craving for hands-on work by indulging in a lot of home remodeling. During his school years, he had often traveled to the Sarasota area for seminars and enjoyed the cultural attractions the area boasted. So when the time came for retirement three years ago, he chose the northern Sarasota home where he works on his pieces in the garage and paints; he also works part-time at a nursery called Plant Parents.
Over the years, Morgan has made more than 200 animal tables, starting with a little black cat called Asia, in 1992. His mother saw a magazine article featuring a table shaped like a dog. She told her son, and he bought the pattern, thinking it sounded like a fun project. He soon made his own pattern and began making pieces, which friends liked and promoted by word of mouth. More requests started to come in for gifts and tributes to beloved pets. "It just kept building and building," he says.
Today he has two collections, the Sawtooth Collection, which is the animal tables, and the Finetooth Collection, which features decorative wall pieces of fish in fine burled woods and tropical shelving and sculpture, featuring parrots and bananas. While his pieces are in homes as far away as Australia, locally his work is on display at Custom Frames and Displays of Art at 7910 N. Tamiami Trail, Suite 105, where a menagerie of cuddly dogs, haughty felines and even a charming deer with perked-up ears draw instant attention.
Ironically, Morgan himself doesn't have a pet, but he does like the friendly subjects of his art.
"I like animals," he says. "And you don't have to take these for a walk, either."
Morgan's tables start at $300. For more information, visit www.wiblonline.com or call him at (941) 359-6585.