Studio Session with Sculptor William Daggett

Emily SchmidtApril 19, 2021
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Every year, Paradise Valley sculptor William Daggett travels to Northern Arizona or Southern Utah to collect twisted juniper branches that “speak to me,” he says.
He has worked with this hard, dense wood for the past decade, finding motion and beauty in the shapes of these 1,000-year-old tree limbs.

“I look for a motion – an animal, a bird, a plane – something abstract I can see in it. Usually, [the wood] says what it wants to be when you look at it,” he says. Jennifer, his wife of 52 years, helps him see what’s inside the wood and name the carved sculpture when it’s finished. Although the sculptures are more abstract, the original animal or object Daggett sees is clearly recognizable.

Most of the time, Daggett finishes a sculpture exactly how he envisioned. He works on one piece at a time to ensure he doesn’t lose sight of what he’s carving. The smallest pieces take about a week to finish, while the larger ones can take a few weeks to complete. Above his hammer, chisel, Dremel and other necessary implements, Daggett says the most important tool is his mind.

“The key thing is to see what you’re carving the whole time you’re carving. You have to stay focused with whatever tool you’ve got in your hand,” he says. Daggett has spent most of his life woodworking in Arizona, from his school projects as a child to constructing custom homes as a developer. His carving skills have also translated into other art forms, including stained glass windows and Native American-inspired jewelry.

For him, the greatest reward is seeing how people react to his work. He exhibits regularly at the Arizona Fine Art Expo (January 15-March 28 this year, arizonafineartexpo.com), and he views attendees who come back year after year to see what he has created as his “family.” Visit woodwhisperings.com to learn more.

HAMMER & CHISEL
Rarely replaced, these are the main tools Daggett needs to carve wood.

WATCO DANISH OIL
After sanding down a carving, Daggett rubs on five coats of oil – one per day over five days – to give it a “spectacular finish and shine.”

JUNIPER WOOD
Daggett believes his current project will end up being a crashing ocean wave.

HAT
Daggett alternates between wearing his woven straw hat and a baseball cap when he carves.

SANDBAGS
These weights hold the branch in place as Daggett carves away wood.

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