Saturday, September 22, 2012
Art and hope: One man’s story to overcome odds and rise from his wheelchair like a phoenix
The art of wood burning helped William Ross cope with an injury that confined him to the couch.
DENTON He fixed his big blue eyes on his grandfather’s hands as sawdust flew. Happy and mesmerized, he watched silently as the wood in front of him went up in smoke.
Slowly, images began to form, and young William Ross got his first taste of what would become his lifelong hobby and successful craft.
Ross, now 30, is a communications sophomore. He is known as the “Wood Phoenix,” a man who transforms hand-drawn scenes and faces on wood into permanent pieces full of texture and color.
“Everyone has their own thing they do,” Ross said. “A lot of people don’t see it as art, but I deem art based on the time and heart put into it.”
Feeding the flame
After sustaining a severe knee injury three years ago while working as a plumber, Ross was confined to the couch and a temporary wheelchair.
“Every time I make a piece, I hear my granddad’s voice on repeat in my head,” Ross said. “I was in a wheelchair this time last year and needed something to pass the time. I’ve been drawing my whole life and always loved doing this. I’ve done 100 burnings in the last three years.”
When his wife Shannon was promoted at work, they both saw it as the perfect opportunity for Ross to return to school as well as develop his passion for wood burning.
“Wood Phoenix” is Ross’ alias. It is representative of the way he breathes new life into old wood while scorching it with a wood burner that reaches 1,000 degrees.
Concentrated in a paintbrush-sized tip, the heat permanently burns every line Ross draws into the wood.
He starts with an image drawn on the wood, traces it with the burner and then fills in the scene with watercolor pencils. His most time-consuming piece took 40 hours to create.
“When I saw his work I was so intrigued and wanted to touch all the pieces,” said Missi Lou, a fellow artist and buyer of Ross’ work. “I was mesmerized by the detail. I could tell his heart was in it, and there was a lot of emotion.”
Sparks of inspiration
Ross’ workspace consists of a low-lit desk in the corner of the living room in his three-bedroom suburban home.
Wedding photos, pieces from his travels, and his and his wife’s art surround the desk.
From “Spem Successus Alit” tattooed on his back – a Latin phrase that means “hope nurtures success,” passed down through generations – to the three Chinese characters painted above the entryway in his home – love, happiness, and harmony – Ross’ influences and priorities are evident in everything he does.
“People look for stories and passion in art, and there is an attachment to his work,” Lou said. “He puts everything into creation for Shannon. The synergy between them is incredible.”
Ross’ first piece was created when his wife’s grandfather, a cancer patient, asked him to make his urn.
Ross crafted a piece that chronicled the man’s life and family, and painted the Marine Corps logo on top.
Since then, Ross has tried to include some reference to his family or heritage in each piece he creates. He designed a yin-yang logo to symbolize his relationship with his.
One of his pieces is a shield with skulls adorned in hats to represent each culture in his family – Scottish, Irish, German, and Cherokee.
“I’m just very family-oriented,” Ross said. “My great-great-great-great aunt was Betsy Ross, and I’m related to David Ross, who discovered how people get malaria. It’s pretty cool, and I’m proud.”
Ross is one of 40 artists who were accepted to show their work at the first Art Uprising Festival in West Village in Dallas. Out of these 40, Ross is the only wood burner.
“We were looking for a good mix of artists and ones that would appeal to the demographic of the West Village,” marketing coordinator Rachel Fresquez said. “We didn’t choose a lot of people who worked with wood, and we thought what he did was amazing.”
While he’s been successful at selling work via word-of-mouth and his Facebook page, Ross considers this festival a breakthrough in getting his name out there.
“Going from being able to pick up a car in high school to being in a wheelchair is a huge blow to a man’s ego,” Ross said. “But after getting that call, my ego was through the roof. I truly believe no one artist is better than another, but my pricing sets me apart. I’ve sold something for $25 that someone would have paid $700 for.”
Whether it’s $50 specialty pine for Home Depot or scrap wood from a lumber yard, Ross brings his artistic touch to the most rigid of elements, giving them a new life and an admirer a new piece of wall art.
“You don’t see a lot of what he has out there,” Lou said. “This is something he has to do – it’s who he is. It’s in his blood.”
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