The Art of Tim Racer
by Scott Broecker
First Photo Below by Laura Moss
Second Photo Below by Tim Racer
Charles I.D. Looff, known as America’s greatest carousel figure carver, used a picture of George Washington astride his favorite horse as a model.
Master wood carver, Tim Racer, has his Pit Bull, Honky, by his side, along with three other best friends as inspiration for carving likenesses of his favorite subjects—dogs! Tim’s studio is in Oakland, California, where he hand carves full-scale sculptures from basswood in the traditional carousel-style; his careful attention to detail makes each unique replica truly lifelike.
Already a talented artist and professional illustrator, Tim transitioned into the world of three-dimensional art shortly after moving to the West Coast from Chicago. He learned much about the lost art of carousel figure carving while working at Hawk’s Eye Studio in Martinez, California, alongside reknowned carousel painter Pam Hessey. Tim spent nearly a decade restoring many of these badly deteriorated antique treasures. It was during this time that Tim and his wife, Donna Reynolds, together took on another restoration project when they founded the San Francisco bay area Pit Bull rescue organization, BADRAP.
Longing to fully utilize his artistic talents, Tim made the decision to start carving his own creations. At first, the financially scary proposition brought a tear to Donna’s eye. But soon after Tim began carving his first canine figure—an exact twin of their red and white Pit Bull, Sally—he would garner his first commissioned piece.
As a regular guest speaker at the Annual Carousel West at Asilomar Conference Center in Pacific Grove, Tim decided to use Sally's carving as his lecture topic. With the carving still in pieces and in different phases of construction, it was ideal to use for this purpose. Shortly into his talk, a woman sitting in the audience near the front motioned to Tim that she would like to be the first to speak with him after his presentation. Her name was Linda Allen, and she and her husband Tom were carousel figure collectors from Seattle. They asked Tim to carve a likeness of the family’s dog Nikki, a Border Collie/Malamute mix, as a Christmas gift for their grown daughter.
Although the carving of Nikki was at 125 percent scale, large enough to be full carousel-size, most of Tim’s canine carvings are not destined to grace carousels. Instead, they are proudly displayed in loving homes around the country as immortal tributes to the beloved family members so beautifully represented in Tim’s art. All of his sculptures are carved life-size and mounted on brass poles, rockers, or detailed platforms. Like traditional carousel carvers of the past,Tim uses only dowels to hold the pieces of his carvings together. No nails are used in his creations, and this ensures their longevity.
Before beginning a piece, Tim insists on meeting the dog to be sure that he captures the unique character of his model. This often means traveling the country to first photograph, sketch, and take detailed measurements—all information that will be invaluable during the carving process.
Finely carved ornamental details known as trappings are incorporated into each sculpture. These include detailed saddles, saddle blankets, rider’s handles, and realistic collars, most of which are inset with colorful faceted glass jewels and metal studs.
As a former illustrator, Tim also adds more personal details, and it is through the symbolism of these details that he is able to tell part of each dog’s individual story. Tim’s carving of Buster, a Pit Bull/Mastiff mix credited with saving his mom from a would-be carjacker, is brilliantly portrayed with armored trappings representing his bravery and heroics.
Graham, a Golden Retriever from Chicago, is carved with 11 bunnies along his saddle blanket—babes he gently brought home one by one for show and tell, before his mom safely returned them to the mother. Other details on Graham’s carving include a dragon under his saddle cantle, a favorite toy confiscated from his mom’s collection. He also carries his ever-present tennis ball.
All of Tim’s sculptures are finely sanded, primed, and colorfully hand-painted to perfection using artist tube oils; then brought to life with realistic glass eyes.
Tim usually has multiple projects going at once, with the time spent on each meticulously logged in his work ledger. One of Tim’s current projects is a French Bulldog by the name of Oscar. Another on- going project is a sculpture of his own dog, Simon, started while he was still with Tim. He lovingly works on it in his spare time, and Simon is now 10 years in the making.
If you are considering having your dog immortalized in one of Tim’s timeless sculptures as a future treasure, commissioned projects can take up to 700 hours to complete and range between $15,000 and $50,000, depending on the size.
A few of the dogs on Tim’s future project wish list include a Bloodhound, Borzoi, Great Dane, Mastiff, and a tri-colored English Setter. Whether you have a large or small dog, a mix or pure bred, Tim loves all dogs and would be happy to speak with you. For estimates or more information, visit him at www.facebook.com/timracer or www.TimRacer.com.