S. Ramasamy’s craze for wooden animal shapes is beyond expression. He tells how he got hooked on the hobby.

S. Ramasamy has a unique interest. He sees artistic expressions in discarded tree roots, barks and branches and goes collecting them before they become firewood. This passion has led him to build a sanctuary of sorts with more than 2,000 different art pieces in the shape of animals.

Owner of a small sweet stall in T. Kallupatti, a suburban town bordering the city, 70-year-old Ramasamy’s affair with wood started three decades ago. Even as a child he was always inclined to do something different and would play with unusual surfaces and made clay pillaiyars for the Vinayakar Chathurthi festival. “I used to gift them to the other children,” he says.

On a visit to a saw mill to pick up firewood, he spotted a 40-kg wooden piece which resembled an elephant. “Everyday I used to sit with the piece to fix a pair of eyes in a suitable place so that it would look exactly like an elephant. This went on for more than 10 days. People made fun of me. But I was happy that I owned a precious art piece,” he says.

Ramasamy is not a trained artist. He listens to his instinct and visualises different shapes in the naturally formed timber and then breathes new life into the hidden shapes without disturbing the natural beauty. Result? The tree wood is transformed into a brilliant work of art.

His all-wood animal farm has dinosaurs to dolphins, apes to herons, ducks and more. “Each time I see a chunk of wood, a human or animal shape unfolds,” he says, showing around his impressive collection.

A wooden art piece of a cricket team with bowler, batsman and an umpire stand out. His enthusiasm drive his friends now to drop off logs of wood in his house and wait eagerly to know what they would look like.

From barks and branches to roots of trees such as the Giant milkweed, Indian mulberry, Neem, Tamarind and Cotton occupy a pride of place in his ‘zoo’. His fascination for elephants is evident. He has 20 different shapes of the gentle giant.

When Ramasamy gets a piece of wood, he simply gazes at it for hours to see if the piece bears a striking resemblance to any animal or bird. “Sometimes it takes days,” he says. Interestingly, he does not carve or cut anything to give a shape to the wood. He simply fixes the eyes in the proper place. The ‘Uluva’ fish is an eye catcher.

Ramasamy’s limited knowledge about animals does not stop him from pursuing his hobby. “I watch television programmes on animals to update myself about the birds and beasts,” he says.

He regularly organises exhibitions in schools in Peraiyur, Kallupatti, Ammapatti and Gandhi Niketan ashram to motivate children. He also exhibitshis artefacts for a social cause.

“I have contributed to the Kargil and Gujarat Earthquake relief funds with the proceeds of the exhibition,” he says.

With each passing year, Ramasamy’s enthusiasm has also increased. He keeps himself busy collecting pieces of wood. His younger son, R. Ayyan Perumal, has also developed a similar interest, but unlike his father he collects vegetables that look different!