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Intricate barn owl wood carving draws many spectators

Suncoast News staff report

HUDSON — Spectators expect to see some unusual pieces captured in wood during the Calusa Wood Carvers show and sale, and the 2014 edition did not disappoint.

Many people buzzed about the intricate detailing in the carving of a barn owl from Tupelo wood by featured artist Chau Pham. The Vietnamese immigrant artist put a $30,000 price tag on his masterpiece.

Pham attached a note that his red-tail hawk on display remains unfinished after more than 1,700 hours of work.

“Horse Warrior” drew many questions fielded by Calusa Wood Carvers President Dave Gourley. He explained that Nigerian woodcarver Akin Bukola sent him the piece to sell at the Calusa show. Bukola carved it from Iroko wood from a tree indigenous to Africa. The price tag was $6,884.

Pham led many seminars during the show, such as the stenciling methods he uses when preparing to paint a carving.

But few spectators probably realized the harrowing journey of Pham from his native Vietnam to the Calusa show floor at Veterans Memorial Park.

Born in Vietnam, Pham grew up from ages 11 to 14 in a Buddhist temple, where he learned wood carving. In 1975, he was arrested by North Vietnamese officials when they occupied Saigon during the fall of South Vietnam.

In 1979, Pham and some friends succeeded in escaping from Vietnam after months of fixing a rickety fishing boat. After a few years in refugee camps, Pham arrived in Georgia, thanks to a sponsor family. A scholarship allowed Pham to earn a degree in fine arts from Atlanta College of Art.

Pham said he enjoys carving for long hours to relieve stress and give peace and joy to his soul. Pham recently completed a 5-foot long carving of the Last Supper for a friend in Vietnam. A 21-foot-tall Buddha is in a temple in Dallas.