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Washington 2006
Copyright / Diclaimer / Privacy Policy

From: Clinton Ct Recorder

Resident Keith Mueller carves up his fine, feathered friends

By: Shannon OCork, Recorder Correspondent October 29, 2002

KILLINGWORTH - Keith Mueller is a World Champion carver of birds.

He's won many world championship awards in different categories of avian wood sculpting in the 30 years he's been carving, and he willingly teaches what he knows. Birds of different feathers are all he paints and/or sculpts, although he lives with "a couple of dogs and a bunch of cats," as well as a female companion.

Born and raised in Meriden, Connecticut, Mueller has lived in town about two years. He expects to stay put, he said, because he likes Killingworth and he doesn't like to travel much. He admires the exotic tropical birds of Africa and South America and he has visited a rain forest and the Mayan ruins, but when the wild goose flies, he'd rather watch it than go along, he said.

Last year's Ward World Carvers Championships in Ocean City, Maryland awarded First Class People's Choice Winner to Mueller's extravagant "Hidden Treasures of the Rain Forest," an elaborate carving of three toucanets in a rain forest. Made of mahogany and over 200 individually carved and painted wood leaves, 50 individual wood vines and three delicately carved and painted birds, the sculpture took him five months to complete. The hardest part of it was knowing when to stop, he said.

Once an engineer and draftsman, Mueller now wood-sculpts birds and ducks and paints fulltime. He taught himself how to carve birds and paint them, he said, and now he teaches others. Mueller conducts painting, carving and art seminars at Carole and Richard Pleines' Acorn Bed and Breakfast at 628 Route 148 in the spring, summer and fall.

Even as a child he drew, he said the other day at a morning class in the heated barn-studio of the Acorn B&B. In high school he first began carving and sharpening his artistic bent. His first creation was a decorative duck decoy, but he no longer remembers what species that first duck was.

He uses electric tools, bits and drills as fine as dental drills, he said, and he likes working with soft woods, like tupelo, "which grows in the swamps of Louisiana. And white cedar is classic, too."

He accepts commissions. For the United States Postal Service, he painted the Connecticut duck stamp in 1996 and the Connecticut duck stamp print in 1999. He won the Rhode Island Duck Stamp print contest, too, for his two ducks flying past a lighthouse. But usually, he said, he wood-sculpts a bird because it interests him. In the class recently, Mueller and his students were creating life-sized carmine bee-eaters, a South African bird. This year, a wood sculpture of the carmine bee-eater won Mueller Third in the World at the Ward Championships in the life-size division.

He works from mounted birds. Live birds don't stay put long enough, he said. His carmine bee-eater model was mounted in 1917. Well-cared for, it might last "forever," he said.

Mueller starts with a block of wood "cut out with a bandsaw; two views, the top view and the side view. Then we start rounding it over with a carving machine and then we start building the detail on it." That's the beginning. "Then," he said, "there's all the feather work and then we take a wood-burning pen, which makes fine burn lines to indicate the feather barbules, and when that's all finished, then we paint it." He has a secret technique for creating a soft surface in the wood to take the oil for painting. It produces an enviable "soft finish," Muller said, and he teaches this technique in his classes.

Some of his wood sculptures are birds perched on favorite resting places and some are of birds "frozen in a moment of flight." He has no preference. "I prefer to carve the bird in the best pose that realistically shows it," he said.

He's published two books, one on technique, he said, titled "Carve and Paint Like the Old Masters," and a new one, "Classic Traditional Decoy Patterns." He has also developed a color-concept theory, based on the coloring of birds that includes a color system, color bar and (paint) mixing guide.

Mueller's next seminars will begin in May 2003 at the Acorn Bed and Breakfast.

All his seminars include, a brochure states, "instruction on the use of mixed medium, gouache and oil painting techniques." The carving skill level accommodates novice to advanced artisan.

May 10-16 - Miniature snowy owl on a snow mound base.

June 1- 6 -       Black-shouldered kite perched on branch.

July 13-18 - "Flat Art" - Oil painting for bird carvers.

Aug. 17-22 - Miniature keel-billed toucan on a mossy branch.
Sept. 7- 12 - Classic traditional mallard decoy.

Sept. 28-Oct. 3 - Miniature woodcock snuggled in leaves.

Oct. 10-17 - Flat Art" Oil painting for bird carvers.

To buy a bird sculpture, buy a book or sign up for a seminar, call Keith Mueller at the Acorn Bed and Breakfast at 663-2214. Write to Mueller at P.O. Box 721, Killingworth, CT 06419. Or you can e-mail him at