Wild Beauty – the Work of Grainger McKoy

Mankind has reflected on lessons from nature since time immemorial. Consider the book of Proverbs:

“Go to the ant, thou sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise: Which having no guide, overseer, or ruler, provideth her meat in the summer, and gathereth her food in the harvest” (Proverbs 6:6).

We could also cite the widespread use of animal characters in fables and axioms. Consider the Spartan Brasidas:

“Brasidas caught a mouse among some figs, and, when he got bitten, let it go. Then, turning to those who were present, he said, ‘There is nothing so small that it does not save its life if it has the courage to defend itself against those who would lay hands on it’” (Plutarch, 1988).

Now consider this image from sculptor Grainger McKoy:


Here is proof of Brasidas’ maxim. The hawk defends his property.

Born in 1947 and raised in Wilmington, North Carolina, McKoy is renowned throughout the region for bringing the surrounding natural world to life in stunning, realistic sculpture. Like the filmography of John Hughes who focused on critical life events for people (Gora, 2011), McKoy’s work often focuses on decisive moments in the natural world: a duck caught in a sack left by a negligent human, a small bird fighting for his life ten feet from the interstate you commute on, two red-tailed hawks struggling for their prey. Not content to simply sculpt decisive moments, McKoy isn’t afraid to sculpt the simple beauty that takes place in backyards and highways across America. In American Woodcock, McKoy makes homage to the season of fall with his sculpture of a bird landing in a pile of leaves, the leaves forming an ephemeral beauty which McKoy freezes in his sculpture.

american woodcock

American Woodcock – courtesy David441491

A McKoy exhibit is simply a wonderful experience and an outing normal people can enjoy. Modern art often requires an interpreter; it is more an ideology than something to be enjoyed. It’s symptomatic of Modernity – where there is no standards or firm foundations regarding anything (MacIntyre, 1984; Rawls, 2005). In contradistinction, Grainger’s work can be enjoyed by children. My daughter was in awe as she stood under the 18-foot span of a duck’s wing – and I stood in awe too. The next minute we were pensive as we regarded a small statue of a dead bird tucked away in a corner – without a title, without an interpretive display. It is rare that an artist can elicit the full range of emotions of the human soul in a single exhibit. McKoy can do that.


Nameless Bird  – photo by CatMax photography

Perhaps McKoy’s most well-known work is Recovery – an eighteen foot replica of a duck’s wing in flight. It was hand-carved by McKoy and then cast in a Pennsylvania factory. Today, it is the crowning piece of Swan Lake Iris Garden in the city of Sumter, South Carolina – where McKoy makes his home and workshop. McKoy said this about Recovery: “this is the wing position that is considered the weakest in bird flight, yet in the artist’s eye is the position with the most beauty and grace. All of us are in recovery somewhere in our lives, as is our environment.” You can watch a video about the making of Recovery by clicking the link at the bottom of this article.

Why did I share this artist with the audience of Battlecast? Because Grainger McKoy’s treatment of life helps us reflect on death and beauty in our own lives. Moreover, Grainger McKoy’s work is important – it matters. And finally, because I care about my audience and I want to share something that made my life a little bit better. A cup of coffee or a good beer on a concrete slab in fall, a smile from a beautiful girl working at the grocery, a peck on the cheek from your daughter – there is more potency in these drugs than any narcotic devised by man. Grainger McKoy’s work is a little cherry in a life of lemons and drudgery mixed with beauty and exhilaration. And sharing his work with you is a little cherry too.

mckoy in his workshop

McKoy at his workshop displaying a model of Recovery


To view a documentary about Recovery, please visit: https://vimeo.com/28405697

For more information about Grainger McKoy, please visit: https://graingermckoy.com/


Gora, Susannah. (2011). You Couldn’t Ignore me if You Tried. Three Rivers Press.

MacIntyre, Alasdair. (1984). After Virtue. University of Notre Dame Press. See especially the first chapter on the mutual exclusion of rational worldviews.

Plutarch. (1988). Plutarch on Sparta. Penguin Classics.

Rawls, John. (2005). Political Liberalism. Columbia University Press.

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