Stephen Henderson produces exceptional wildlife carvings made from an assortment of wood, ranging from driftwood to, his favourite, an America carving wood known as Eastern White Pine, or Quebec Pine.
For someone with an obvious unique appreciation of wildlife, Stephen Henderson had the perfect childhood. Yes he went to school locally, but his most important education came from the countryside around him; the farms, fields, sea, salt creeks and marshland formed his syllabus, as did the seasons and the wildlife that came with them. It was almost Arthur Ransome’s country, where he lived out the author’s real life Swallows and Amazons adventure. He looks back with clear pleasure: ”It was a good time. The days were full of boats, swimming, fishing and shooting. My parents were happy with this. There wasn’t any “health and safety” and they warned us to be careful, but falling in and out of boats was part of growing up on the coast. I was mad keen on duck shooting from the age of ten or 11. My father wasn’t a wildfowler, but he had friends who used to come down duck shooting in the winter and I would try to tag along and be their retriever.”
Stephen Henderson used poor tools for his early carving and whittling – anything he could beg or borrow. His work and outlook improved when a friend of his father’s was working on the early Star Wars film: ”He was a set designer using polystyrene. I got to work with him and he helped me develop my skills and sense of three dimensions. I have always found this quite straightforward – I can see shapes as I go rather than having to plot it all out.”
His further education, developing his woodworking skills, was far from straightforward or orthodox. His mother died when he was 15 and he had no interest in going to university. On leaving school he got a job on the ferries, leaving from nearby Harwich. He later worked in an array of jobs, including building, completing a boat-building course and then working on boats, making wooden signs in London and then making custom-made kitchens.
For a year Stephen Henderson worked and travelled in Australia, with Liz and their young baby Arthur, who now aged 30, lives in Australia. While in Australia, he earnt money building, and he started carving animals and rocking horses, which made him realise that he wanted to carve wildlife when he got back to England.
Once back at the family home in Essex his wish to create wildlife was interrupted by a period making furniture for a friend who started up a hotel that then became the Hotel du Vin chain.
He still carved in his spare time and got to know internationally renown bird sculptor Guy Taplin, who was generous with his advice, experience and encouragement. Seven years ago, as his work improved and demand increased, he concentrated entirely on his wood carving and he has never looked back. His workshop is full of his creations – groups of birds, individuals, adults with chicks, shoals of fish, sharks and whales, all creations of beauty, accuracy and imagination. There are favourite birds of mine: lapwings, golden plovers, curlew, greenshanks, whimbrel and many more. Stephen Henderson still works with his favoured Quebec pine: “It is light, gentle and mellow to use, not too resinous, sands well and takes a nice paint finish. Plus it has a nice grain with not too many knots – and I like using it”. He contributes to numerous exhibitions throughout the country and shows at the Shepherds Market Gallery in Mayfair every other year.