“Wood does what it wants to.”
Douglas Piper, a Greenville-based block print artist, reflects on his earliest medium. He remembers childhood days spent exploring the “massive, massive workshop” of his grandfather, Clair Harold Hunt, a woodworker in retirement. Piper’s small hands whittled popsicle sticks alongside his “Paw Paw’s” larger projects.
Piper still wrestles with wood today, cutting, chiseling and chipping each block print piece of art in his studio, which sits on the Reedy River in downtown Greenville’s Art Crossing galleries. One of Piper’s favorite pieces is “The Most Exciting 25 Seconds in College Football,” a joyous study in nostalgia.
“It takes a view of the stadium with all the balloons in your face and all the festivities as everybody’s running down The Hill,” he says. “I wanted to create a print that honored that tradition.”
For this piece, Piper opted for a linoleum block (his other preferred medium) over wood because it allows for a more detailed and precise final product, necessary for the many balloons etched into each layer.
“[Linoleum] is very easy to carve, and it does exactly what you want it to,” Piper explains. “Whereas wood is organic, so as you carve, it can splinter, or you may discover knots — who knows?”
Depending on the detail and size of the project, carving can take “anywhere from a couple of days to two weeks,” and more often than not, Piper is drawing inspiration from his best-loved muse: the great outdoors.
“I did a tiny little series of where I’d want to retire,” he says with a smile. “It’s typically at the foot of mountains.”
When the carving is done, Piper rolls ink onto the block and presses it to paper. Or maps or cardboard, whatever he’s experimenting with. “I can either roll it through my printing press,” he says, “or I can take a spoon and hand-burnish it.”
In February, Piper opened an exhibit at Greenville’s Sift Gallery titled “Skies and Shorelines,” a collaboration with his mixed-media artist wife, Meredith Piper, who works just a few studio doors down from him. They met in her hometown of Shreveport, Louisiana, when she was an art teacher and he had recently graduated from Clemson with a packaging science degree. And when Piper lost his grandfather in the mid-2000s, she inspired him to pick up his inheritance: carving tools.
Together, the Pipers have turned their shared passion into a profession. But they still make time to refill the creative well. At the end of March, they finished a monthlong artist-in-residency program in Provence, France, where they traveled and created alongside other artists.
When asked what his grandfather would think of where his grandson, and his woodworking tools, are now, Piper laughs: “Oh, I think he would just be tickled. He would probably be asking me to carve a lot of his furniture out if he was still making it.”
With that in mind, Piper plans to keep creating, carving out that obstinate wood — and making it.