Since 1998, Salmonfly.Net has been celebrating the art of tying flies, by presenting the work of fly tyers around the world in our Contributing Fly Tyer Series. In this issue we are presenting the work of William Underwood, a contributor to the art of constructing salmon flies, to be sure, but the flies he constructs are not the type that you will use for fly fishing. You will not find them displayed in a fly tying competition, either. These are wooden flies, sculpted with all the devoted attention to detail as any fur and feather fly constructed by a Master Fly Tyer. William Underwood's craft , is not only deserving of our attention as fly tyers, but also as conservationists, for as he stated in our email conversations about his
sculptures, "I especially like the salmon patterns as I can recreate the exotic bird feathers without harming any endangered species".
William Underwood a Native American of Abenaki Ancestry, is biologist, wildlife sculptor and communications professional, who lives with his family in upstate New York. He has been drawing, painting and carving wildlife for as long as he can remember. The Abenaki are a northeastern woodland people who were skilled in all phases of woodcraft and used wood extensively for both utilitarian and artistic purposes.
Although William inherited the love of art and skills in woodcraft from his ancestors,
he also earned a certificate in commercial art, a BS degree in biological science from SUNY Empire State, and a Master of Science in organizational communication and learning design from the Park School of communication at Ithaca College.
For 30 years he had a successful career working for IBM in positions ranging
from manufacturing to multi-media design and marketing, but
he left all of that in 1995 and devoted his time between teaching and his love of working in wood.
When I asked him about his career he quipped, "I
should have spent the 30 years fishing!"
took up his second career with just as much if not more zeal as his first and it
appears to me that he truly loves what he does. He talent and enthusiasm are
undeniable. He has been recipient of a N.Y. S.O.S. grant, has shown his work in local, regional and national competitions and has won numerous awards. He generously shares his skills, conducting classes and demonstrations at public, Native American schools, and regional art centers.
William designs, sculpts and creates decorative wood
sculptures of whimsical characters, custom butterfly pins, feather pins and feather
earrings, but his primary subjects are birds, animals and fish set in their natural environments.
His website, which is still being constructed, is
Underwood Wildlife Studio. His
comes from a love and deep appreciation of his Native American heritage and
philosophy. He describes it this way in his webpage
biography, "All of nature is part of the great circle of life and held in great esteem by Native Americans. Many are powerful clan symbols in the culture and are key figures in our mythology." So, in the opinion of Salmonfly.Net, his skill with reproducing bird life, like the piece shown to the right, and beautiful replicas of colorful feathers, like the one
to the left, naturally spilled over into the realm of creating beautiful wooden sculptures of salmon flies.
It also helped, of course, that William had been a fly tyer too.
William likes to recreate Atlantic Salmon wet flies and streamers because
..."they lend themselves to carving with their larger wings, less hackle and brighter colors.
The flies are based on the winged wet patterns that I had in my box and reference from classic wet patterns that were in my reference books. I try to represent the original however I do use some artistic license." Well William, what fly tyer does not take some artistic license
with their salmon and steelhead creations of fur and feather. As illustrated by
the photo to the right, he constructs the fly by dividing it into different
almost as a tyer constructs a fly by
dividing it into its different parts. He then takes
the individual sections of the fly, assembles and glues them, refines his work and
hand paints it. Here he tells in his own words how his wooden flies are sculpted.
end product is a beautiful, larger than life fly creation of exceptional quality
that in my estimation would be the perfect work of art and a conversation
piece for a desk, fly tyers bench, or bookshelf, or mantle in any anglers den.
Naturally, I was interested about whether William would
carve specific flies upon request but William had already been asked about this.
In one letter, he wrote, "Since I made these have been to several shows were
people have asked for specific classic patterns. Future designs on the site
will be be more faithful to the many classic wet and streamer patterns. I will
try and reproduce any fly that is requested however the winged wets and streamer
designs look best in wood." So, imagine one of the Decorative Wooden Flies
of William Underwood gracing your own desk or mantle. I know that I have. Take a
look at some of the other flies in his collection below and then visit the
Underwood Wildlife Studio.
You will be glad that you did. You may click on any image below or any on this
page to enlarge them in another window. The images are good, but they still do
not quite capture the delicate shading of the wings and other features. To see
the detail that William puts into his designs, you should really visit his
website and look at all his works of art.