Art by May
continue to fascinate customers
MADISON, Ind. (April 2000) Imagine an elephant with antlers and
a sleigh. Sound far-fetched? Well, Madison, Ind.-based folk artists
Bruce and Dianne May created just that for a customer in Florida.
by Elizabeth Nachman
and Bruce May pose
in their Madison art studio.
While they concentrate on hand-carved Santas and more
traditional animals, they will attempt just about anything at least
Born and raised in Camden, Mich., Bruce May played professional baseball
with the former St. Louis Browns during the late 1940s and early 1950s.
He then served in the U.S. Army and played on the European baseball
team while he was stationed in Germany.
May later went on to become a railroad engineer, a career that lasted
30 years. Over the years, he worked for New York Central, Penn Central
and Conrail. May spent most of his years on a steam engine.
"Diesel made it easier to work but took away the nostalgia,"
During this time, May carved as a hobby. However, becoming a full-time
folk artist was the farthest thing from his mind until he retired.
May and Dianne, whom he met in Camden, moved to Madison more than 15
years ago after May had taken a severance and retired from the railroad.
They chose Madison because they had fond memories of vacations spent
at Clifty Falls State Park. The couple also loved the historic homes
downtown and the quaintness of the little river town.
"And, believe it or not, the weather was better here than in Michigan,"
May describes himself as a completely self-taught folk artist where
anything goes. "Whether that's good or bad, I don't know, but it's
mine," May said.
He can often be found searching for wood to use for his carvings along
the nearby Ohio River. He also purchases wood from a local sawmill.
May likes to use basswood for items that will be repeated, since this
type of wood has no grain.
Once he has obtained the wood, he cuts it down to a specific size. He
then anchors the wood in a vice, which holds it while he uses various
sizes of gouges to carve the fine details that bring each object to
life. While May often draws a pattern to follow, he will sometimes just
sit down and start carving.
Walking along Main Street, you might catch a glimpse of May in the window
of the couple's shop, Folk Art By May, located at 409 W. Main St. He
spends many hours perched on a chair next to the window tediously carving
his works of art. After he has completed an item, Dianne will take it
home and apply the finishing touches. She applies jesso to the unfinished
carving, sands it down and then paints it with artist's acrylics. Before
it is fully complete, she uses a finishing coat and stains it to look
old. Dianne says she enjoys painting at home so that she can work on
other projects while waiting for an item to dry.
The couple has had their shop for almost as long as they have lived
in Madison. They were in their present location for one year before
moving to a larger shop next door. That shop took over their space.
However, they found that they did not need such a large building and
Their shop is filled with May's creations and also features a few works
by other artists. The store hours vary, but you can often catch them
by chance or by calling for an appointment.
The Mays have exhibited at both wholesale and retail shows in the past,
including the Valley Forge (Pa.) Gift Market, the St. James Art Festival
(Louisville), and the Madison Chautauqua of the Arts. They have also
been featured in several magazines, such as Midwest Living and Early
American Life. Often, they will recognize one of their pieces when a
particular house is featured in a magazine.
The Mays sell their wares to stores and museums all over the United
States. Currently, they have a variety of pieces ranging from small
wooden Santas to pieces more than three feet tall in Period Collections,
an interior design store in Houston.
May says that folk art is quite coveted in Texas, as well as along the
East Coast, although their pieces have sold quite well in the Midwest.
They have a large following of customers who collect their hand-carved
Santas, and each year a special Santa is introduced.
"Bruce and Dianne have created the most delightful collection of
Santas, angels, and animals I have ever seen," said Connie Lynch,
a past customer. "Whether it is a yearly Santa, an ornament or
a whimsical reindeer, there is sure to be something for everyone to
discover in this unique shop. Madison is very fortunate to have such
renowned artists in town."
While they will continue to produce the best sellers, the Mays strive
to introduce at least 20 new figures each year.
In addition to Santas, May usually has a nice selection of angels, cats,
dogs, roosters and arks. Prices start at $22 for ornaments, $28 for
Santas and can go as high as $600 for a three-feet-tall Santa riding
on the back of a reindeer. The average Santa ranges from $60-$85.
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