Michael Scarborough: Act II By Ed Cullen
Tea in the Forest from the Sandy’s Childrens series.
“The greatest influence on my early life, however, was growing up in rural Japan in the late 1950s . . . within walking distance of the ancient Kintaikyo Bridge..”
70 LSU Alumni Magazine | Summer 2014
Michael Scarborough, an undergraduate at LSU in the early seventies, had his heart broken by a young woman named Lucinda. His favorite voice teacher took a job in another state. Yet, Scarborough remembers his four semesters at LSU as the best time in his life. Today, after a twenty-five-year career in opera, Scarborough, 61, lives in Queens where he turns out exquisite art in wood. He got over Lucinda. He followed voice teacher Dallas Draper to Kansas City. “I wish I’d stayed at LSU,” Scarborough said. “The women were beautiful, I was playing lacrosse, and I was doing a lot of plays. Dr. Gresdna Doty (theatre professor emeritus) thought I had something to offer.” Though Scarborough (attended January 1974-December 1975) attended nine colleges and has “zillions of professional credits,” he doesn’t have a degree. “I call myself an LSU alum,” Scarborough said. “The place, when I look back, that makes my heart beat fast” is LSU. Scarborough’s work in wood is quickening the pulse of the fine crafts world. Though he had a long career in opera, Scarborough thinks he’ll be better remembered for the Japanese-inspired art he began producing, as though by spontaneous combustion, a few years after he left opera in 2000. Drawing on skills first learned in his father’s home workshop in Japan, where the Scarboroughs were a U.S. Navy family in the late 1950s and early 1960s, Scarborough began doing antique furniture restoration. That became design-and-build furniture in his Sunnyside Gardens home workshop in Queens. When Scarborough was thinking about leaving opera for fine crafts, he talked the move over with his wife, Diane Bounds, an associate investments portfolio manager from Ackerman, Miss. “Do it,” she said. To refine his skills as a designer, Scarborough took the subway to classes at the Parsons School of Design and the Institute of Classical Architecture. Scarborough’s grandfather was a mosaic artist from Northern Italy. His father built him a work bench when Scarborough was five. “The greatest influence on my early life, however, was growing up in rural Japan in the late 1950s inundated with beauty and living within walking distance of the ancient Kintaikyo Bridge,” Scarborough said. “I constantly followed Japanese craftsmen around our home when they were working and was fascinated by their tools and their amazing concentration. I witnessed every step of the building of our family boat. On visits to ancient temples or Samurai fortresses, I was mesmerized by the architecture and decoration.” Though Scarborough says it’s more important to train the eye than the hand in art, his skill at manipulating wood, especially with the lathe, and his attention to the finishes on his work, continued to develop. “Until, one day – literally, one day – I started doing these pieces inspired by things in my childhood,” he said. “In 2011, Scarborough juried into his first large retail show, the Philadelphia Museum of Art Craft Show,” writes Andrew Zoellner in American Craft Magazine. “His first sale was a big one.” A “nice man” came into Scarborough’s booth. He kept saying, “This is so different.” The man bought one of Scarborough’s pieces. The buyer was Albert LeCoff, executive director of the Center for Art in Wood. At the 2012 American Craft Council Show in Baltimore, Scarborough sold more than half his stock. Later that year, just six months on the fine craft show circuit, he received an award of excellence at Craft New York. Scarborough calls his “level of success” magical. “It’s been freaky. Twenty-five years of working my ass off as a singer – traveling around the world. I don’t know where all this is coming from, but I’m so happy it’s coming.” Scarborough was in his “botanical road kill” period before Hurricane Sandy hit New York on Oct. 29, 2012, but found that wood gained new meaning in the storm’s aftermath. He calls “Tea in the Forest” his breakout piece. The wooden tea service,