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Pandemic projects: Wooden whimsical birds’ ‘only job is to make people smile’

Lawrence Killingsworth is photographed with some of the wooden birds, including Jaz, far left, and Larry Bird, with long green legs, next to her.  (Jesse Tinsley/THE SPOKESMAN-REVI)
Lawrence Killingsworth is photographed with some of the wooden birds, including Jaz, far left, and Larry Bird, with long green legs, next to her. (Jesse Tinsley/THE SPOKESMAN-REVI)
By Cindy Hval For The Spokesman-Review

From the tree houses he built as a boy in Georgia to the furniture he crafted for his historic South Hill home, Lawrence Killingsworth has always had a way with wood.

Eight years ago, he retired from Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center after working 37 years as a clinical lab director.

“I was able to fully outfit my shop,” Killingsworth said.

That proved to be a mixed blessing.

He shrugged.

“It was a sad day when I realized I’d bought all the equipment I needed.”

Woodworkers everywhere can certainly relate.

During the pandemic, he downsized the scale of his projects and discovered great joy in crafting smaller works.

His shop walls are covered with photos of pieces he built over the years, but his current projects all fit on his worktable.

Painted in vibrant colors, whimsical birds in various sizes stand splay-footed, their bright, beady eyes peering at visitors.

“I gave some away, and people said they made them smile,” recalled Killingsworth.

That was all the encouragement he needed to up his production. To date, he’s given away 39 of the larger-sized birds, 20 of the smaller, and 10 of his more recently hatched roosters.

Killingsworth credits woodshop mascot, Igor (Idea Generating Operational Robot) for his ideas.

Igor, of course, is another one of his creations.

“I keep Igor set on great ideas on turbo speed,” he said, smiling.

Nearby, sits a carving of an old man with white hair and a bushy white mustache.

“I carved him in 1974,” Killingsworth said. “The idea was how I’d look when I got older.”

While Sammy the woodshop cat meandered about, offering comment, Killingsworth told the stories behind a few of his whimsical birds.

“This is Sarge,” he said. “He recently retired from 20 years in the Army, where he served in the Airborne Brigade.”

Sarge proudly wears his stripes and his black combat boots.

Larry Bird is easily identifiable due to his long legs and Boston Celtics colors, green and white.

Killingsworth pointed to another creation.

“This is Rocky. He’s been working out in the gym in hopes of making the football team,” he explained.

And Jaz is ready for a night on the town – her bright red toenail polish and lipstick shine.

Each bird features its name and date created on the bottom of its feet. There’s not a lot of space on the smaller birds, so Killingsworth sticks to three-letter names for those.

“Usually, before I start making the bird I know their story. I know their personality,” he said.

New to the fowl family – roosters modeled after the goofy accident-prone rooster in the Disney film “Moana.”

It’s difficult for the woodworker to pin down exactly how long it takes to make each bird – the saw blade clock in his shop hasn’t worked for many years.

“That’s the way it should be in the shop,” he said. “It’s my happy place.”

There are 20 steps involved in each creation and Killingsworth estimates it takes 2 to 2½ days to complete one bird.

Each one has a secret compartment. He places a small bag of birdseed within the compartment before giving them away, in case the birds get peckish.

Plans are in the works to sell them at a gift shop at Riverview Retirement Community once the pandemic wanes, with all proceeds going to Riverview.

For now, he’s relishing the process of creating the birds and their stories.

“The most enjoyable thing is giving them away and the response of people,” Killingsworth said.

He’s glad his whimsical creations are fulfilling their purpose.

“The bird’s only job is to make people smile.”

You can see more of Lawrence Killingsworth’s work on Facebook at Shoshone Woodcraft.

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