From childhood, through travels and in retirement, local artist Bernie Harris’ passion for woodcarving spans a lifetime
Bernie Harris (Chaunte’l Powell Photo)
Bernie Harris is a soft-spoken man, one whose hand-crafted wooden sculptures speak for themselves.
Originally from Oklahoma, he started working with wood as a child, inheriting a fascination for manipulating wood from his father. His father, a carpenter, made things that were needed around the house. Harris grew up interested in the projects his father undertook and wanted to be a carpenter, but did so only as a hobby. He took more lessons after coming to the Roswell Adult Center.
One of the few occupations he held over the course of his lifetime was as a bus driver. He drove a bus for several years and had the opportunity to travel all over the country, gaining a better appreciation for America along the way. His journey during his time of employment brought him to Roswell. While many of his classmates from Oklahoma were flocking to Carlsbad to work in the potash mines, he opted to come to Roswell where a few of his family members resided. If you ask Harris what the best part about moving to Roswell was, he’s quick to tell you, “I met my wife here.”
He and his wife Jackie met at a local dance. Harris said during that time the dances were quite lively, attracting military personnel from Walker Air Force Base as well as entertainment from as far as Tennessee. The two were married on New Year’s Eve in 1954 and this year celebrated their 58th wedding anniversary.
He said he has enjoyed living in Roswell and was drawn to the Roswell Adult Center based on the many different classes offered. He decided to attend a few during his free time and was naturally drawn to the woodshop class. At these classes, he had the opportunity to work under wood sculpturer Rex Branson. Branson was one of the main artists who worked on the “World’s Oldest Man,” which stands outside of the Center.
While Harris didn’t actually help carve the statue, he played a part in it coming to be. He said he oversaw the clearing of the space where the statue now stands and initially got Branson on board to do the project. Once the project was completed, Harris said he felt a sense of relief and pride.
Harris said his initial reaction was, “Hooray! … It was quite a task to get it put together and everything, but I was real proud of it.”
The carving would be featured in Wood Carving Illustrated, a magazine dedicated to those with a passion for woodcarving and learning more about the craft.
During the mid-1990s, Harris would teach woodcarving classes during the day and at night, but has since eased out of his role as teacher. He said he teaches as needed, but is content in being more of an assistant and lending a helping hand on a regular basis.
Harris’ work can still be seen in the woodshop area of the Center. Amongst his 50 or so carvings are Native American-style pieces and a giant wooden framed mirror. He credits Branson himself as the inspiration for many of the carvings. He took several classes under the tutelage of Branson and would take the lessons he taught and apply them to his artwork.