back bounded-next cafe calendar-large calendar cart close coat-check collapse donate download elevators expand explore filter grid-view hamburger heart hours join link list-view location mail more next nursing-room phone print programs ramp restrooms right-arrow search share shop thumbs-down thumbs-up tickets up toilet heart-filled zoom Skip to Content

Past Exhibitions

The Sculpture of Grainger McKoy

September 25–December 11, 2011

McKoy’s exquisitely detailed and skillfully rendered work redefines the idea of wildlife art. Featuring more than 30 sculptures and drawings, the exhibition presents works of stunning realism and virtuosity.

Click on an image below to learn more.


The sculpture of Grainger McKoy defies classification. Though a living artist, McKoy does not operate within the circles of contemporary art or the gallery scene. He carves, burns, and manipulates wood with woodworker’s tools, yet his handiwork is rendered with the passion and expertise of a fine art sculptor.

Birds are his subject—an age-old theme that has captured the attention of artists, scientists, and naturalists for centuries. Like a scientist McKoy studies preserved skins and feathers of birds with an objective eye. Like a naturalist he observes birds in their environment, watching how they feed and fly. He knows their predators and prey. As an artist, McKoy shares an interest in depicting avian subjects with many others before him, from John James Audubon (1785–1851) to Constantin Brancusi (1876–1957).

McKoy’s highly realistic representations of birds are made of basic materials—wood, metal, and paint—yet they grip the observant viewer with trompe l’oeil illusion, while rejecting the confounding trickery often implicit in that “trick of the eye” style. Rather McKoy invites us to question, wonder, observe, and above all, revel in the pure beauty of his birds.

Grainger McKoy

A hunter from an early age, McKoy received a gift of an antique duck decoy from his grandmother one Christmas. From this he was inspired to carve his first bird, a shorebird from the cypress wood of his family’s log cabin in rural South Carolina.

McKoy studied architecture in college while obtaining a degree in zoology, but had always shown a talent for art. His skills were recognized by the experienced bird carver Gilbert Maggioni, who convinced McKoy to give it a try. After graduation McKoy began an apprenticeship under Maggioni. Unlike most traditional bird carvers, McKoy and Maggioni sought extreme realism, inserting individual wood feathers rather than carving them out from an existing block. McKoy also engaged his knowledge of architecture to create complex, gravity-defying structural compositions.

Like the artist-naturalist Audubon, McKoy focuses upon the dynamics of avian behavior as inspiration. Showing birds feeding, flocking, fleeing danger, or fighting, McKoy’s sculptural representations appeal as much to aesthetic expectations as to the human fascination with drama and narrative. In his earliest work McKoy includes realistic reference to environment—grasses, mud, sand—to further the naturalistic illusion. 

To learn more about Grainger McKoy, visit www.graingermckoy.com.

Organization and Support

The Sculpture of Grainger McKoy is organized by the High Museum of Art, Atlanta.

Support for this exhibition is provided by The Fraser-Parker Foundation, Sarah and Jim Kennedy, and Margaret and Terry Stent.

Garden & Gun is a promotional partner.