Spencer tinkham '11 is Turning Trash to treasure

Showcasing artwork at in exhibition at norfolk collegiate


Norfolk Collegiate alumnus turned artist Spencer Tinkham ’11 has been carving his name into things since his grandfather gifted him a pocket knife when he was eight years old. Now, Tinkham is carving wood and manipulating metal (and several other unconventional media like plastic) into sculptural masterpieces.

Collegiate is hosting Tinkham’s “An Exhibition of Folk art and Decoys” in the Gallery at the Meredith Center for the Arts March 23-24 from 6-9 p.m. and March 25 from 2-6 p.m. The exhibit will feature an opportunity for the community to visit with Tinkham’s and view his pieces. Learn more about the exhibit now.

“I was always outside growing up,” said Tinkham, owner of Tinkham Decoys and Folk Art. “When I wasn’t outside—and even when I was—I was whittling and carving. It gave me a sense of freedom and adulthood. I loved being able to manipulate my environment.”

Tinkham combined his untouched surroundings with his love for carving to create unique sculptures made from materials he’d find on walks, fishing or playing outside. What most people considered trash, Tinkham saw a mallard or an owl or a robin. When asked why he didn’t choose to work with easier materials from the local hardware store, he said not having a car made those materials scarcer than the ones in his backyard. By middle school, Tinkham was participating in decoy competitions and selling his work for commission, fiddling and practicing every minute he could.

“I was [and still am] constantly on a treasure hunt. It’s like working with a canvas that gives me a hint about what it wants to be,” Tinkham said.

Now, Tinkham is a full-time sculptor and is leaning into his love for folk art. He’s also adamant about sharing his love for conservation. He says it’s important for everyone to be aware of the environment and want to support it. He hopes more people see treasure where others see trash and pick up disregarded items in their neighborhoods.

Tinkham competed in several woodworking competitions while attending Collegiate, giving him valuable lessons about craftsmanship. Through relentless trial-and-error—and after several years of carving competitions—Tinkham twice won the youth division in the prestigious Ward World Championship Wildfowl Carving Competition. When reflecting on his improvement over the years, he said, “If you win the first race you run, you won’t be as motivated to run the next one.  But if you lose, you have further to climb, leaving room for discovery and improvements.”

Tinkham lives locally and is still engaged in the sprawling Collegiate family.

“It’s important for me to stay in touch [with classmates and teachers],” he said. “I’ll get a letter out of the blue from someone, and I really love that. No one is ever forgotten. We all still support each other.”

Tinkham says he’s especially grateful for upper school Spanish teacher Melissa Poppert for being so supportive of him and his work. Tinkham grew up fishing and spending time with Poppert’s sons (Reilly ’11 and Collin ’14 Poppert) while at Collegiate.

For more information about Tinkham’s upcoming exhibit, visit our Facebook page here