Alumnus Turning Trash into Gold and Showcasing at Norfolk Collegiate

Norfolk Collegiate alumnus turned artist Spencer Tinkham ’11 has been carving his name into things since his grandfather gifted him a pocketknife when he was eight years old. Now, Tinkham is carving wood and shaping metal (and several other unconventional mediums 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.


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


Tinkham combined his passion for conservation with his love for carving to create unique sculptures made from materials he’d find on walks, fishing or playing outside. When most people saw 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 says not having a car made those materials harder to come by compared to the materials he could find in his backyard.


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 Decorative Bird Carving World Championship. 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.”


Today, Tinkham is a full-time sculptor and is embracing 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 their environment and want to support it. He hopes more people see treasure where others see trash and pick up disregarded stuff in their neighborhoods.


“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.


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 with Poppert’s sons (Reilly ’11 and Collin ’14 Poppert) going fishing and spending time together at Collegiate.


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