LITTLE DEER ISLE — Waterfowl carver Josh Brewer has given up practicing medicine to return to his other vocation. It began when he was a young boy, partially as a way to stay occupied in his father’s workshop.
The Maryland native and former physician resigned from Northern Light Blue Hill Hospital last April.
That’s good news for collectors, according to Zac Cote, a new partner at Maryland’s auction house Guyette and Deeter, which specializes in antique decoys and sporting art.
“He needs to carve more,” Cote said. “People really like his pieces. A couple of his pieces just sold or are about to. We’re the world leaders in both antique and vintage hunting decoys as well as decorative bird art.”
Waterfowl sculpture, such as those that Brewer creates, aren’t used for hunting but rather for collecting and displaying.
“For a lot of people, it’s a matter of bringing the outdoors in,” Cote said. “A lot of collectors of these are sportsmen. So, in the off season, they get to enjoy looking at the birds when they’re not out in that field.”
Brewer spent plenty of time in field and stream when he was growing up on Maryland’s Eastern Shore near Chesapeake Bay. His father was a duck hunter. The region is rich with native and migrating waterfowl. During his youth, he even kept his own aviary to observe birds and capture them accurately and realistically.
“I had an aviary for 15 years,” Brewer said. “Every day, I was around them.”
His father was a really good builder and always gave him things to do in his workshop.
Brewer carves by hand with traditional tools and uses oil paint to finish his sculptures. The pieces start on the drawing board with sketches on draftsman’s vellum or butcher paper or “whatever I can get my hands on,” he said.
He carves sculptures mainly out of Atlantic white cedar.
“It strikes a good balance between strength and weight,” he said. “The grain is pretty predictable.”
Brewer began competing in the world of bird carving in his early teens and then he started judging. By the time he was 17 or 18 he was judging the world championships for bird carving.
“And I started going up and down the East Coast and the Mid-Atlantic, displaying my work at wildlife art festivals,” Brewer said.
Brewer had been pre-med in college, earning a bachelor’s degree in biology, but a medical career wasn’t necessarily in the works. He really enjoyed the community of waterfowl artists, traveling to shows and the work itself during his 20s. It was “really rewarding and fun,” the former physician said. “I had a pretty good business for 26 years old and I had five to six years of commissions backlogged. So that was the only thing I’d known for work in my life.”
Then the 2008 financial crisis hit the United States.
That’s when Brewer says he began questioning whether being and working as an artist would always be enough for him intellectually and financially.
“Is it going to satisfy all the needs?” he asked. “Is it going to keep me stimulated? Is it going to keep me paid? Is it going to work?”
Those were a lot of questions to answer. So, Brewer went to medical school, eventually becoming a private family physician on the Eastern Shore.
Eventually the family relocated to Maine, specifically Little Deer Isle, when Brewer took a position with Northern Light Blue Hill Hospital.
He had traveled to Maine with his family as a kid, so he knew he loved the area.
The couple, who have two young sons, found a house in Deer Isle where Brewer has a workshop.
“I love helping people,” he said. “I love that side of medicine.”
Being a doctor, however, and the hours it took to do the job every week, took a toll.
He considered working part time, especially since the medical field has been going through adjustments post-pandemic. But, he questioned what is part time when you’ve been working 80-90 hours a week. It’s still a lot of time away from family.
“We can’t all be everything,” Brewer said. “I personally didn’t think I’d find joy in the compromises. I make things, that’s what I do.”
“I’m who I am when I’m out in the shop making things and I just found that there wasn’t that kind of quiet space in my head during the days of being a doctor,” he explained. “I like wood. I like oil paints.”
When he’s not carving or spending time with his wife and two sons, Brewer takes photos and he hunts.
“I’m really into bird hunting,” Brewer said. He hunts for woodcock, among others.
Brewer also builds a bit of furniture.
What’s next in the workshop?
“I’ll do some dog work,” said Brewer. He’s thinking about making some sculptures of English pointers.