From ‘Simpsons’ animator to woodworker, local artist got props from a ‘Star Trek’ legend

Columbia artist carves a shark out of wood

Cameron Porter a former animator, is an artist in Columbia, SC who uses wood to create abstract, representational, and practical pieces.
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Cameron Porter a former animator, is an artist in Columbia, SC who uses wood to create abstract, representational, and practical pieces.

Columbia artist Cameron Porter went from working as an animator for 20 years to animating slabs of wood as a woodworker. In between, he went back to college as an undergrad in his 40s. For his efforts, he recently received praised from a “Star Trek” hero.

“It’s never too late to start a new passion. ... (Porter) proves that going against the ‘grain’ really pays off!” actor George Takei said.

Takei is best known for his role as Hikaru Sulu, a helmsman on board the USS Enterprise in the 1960s “Star Trek” show and in the “Star Trek” movies of the ‘70s and ‘80s. In the last decade, Takei has become known for his positive and humorous social media presence, which is where he shared a spot on Porter and his work. The segment was part of the “George Takei Presents” series on Facebook.

Social media has played a prominent role in Porter building his career as a woodworker, an art form in which he sculpts abstract works such as the interlocking wood rings he made in the Takei presentation. He also makes practical pieces like bowls and furniture. He’s even sculpted a facsimile of a lightsaber handle from firewood.

Before social media and avant-garde design, Porter put pencil to paper as an animator. For nearly two decades, he drew cartoons for television series or other platforms. Notably, he worked on “The Simpsons,” the three-decades-running Fox series based around the titular family living in the town of Springfield.

After moving to Columbia from Canada, Porter — a Canadian citizen — was unable to work as an animator because of immigration restrictions. So he started dabbling with carpentry and building furniture. A neighbor let Porter use woodworking tools, and he found a love of using the lathe, a process in which a machine spins a piece of wood while a hand tool is used for shaping the material.

Around the same time, while in his early 40s, Porter decided to go back to college at the University of South Carolina. He graduated with a bachelor’s in fine arts in 2016.

“I’ve been doing woodworking full time since,” Porter said.

Moving from animation to woodworking, he said, “hopefully I can bring that creative aspect and experimental, having fun, trying new things (approach) at whatever I’m doing.”

Since making woodwork his primary endeavor, Porter describes his career as a series of successes mitigated by flat periods. He integrated himself into Columbia’s art scene, showing his work and getting his name out, but sold little of his art. He won awards from the State Fair’s art exhibit, seen as a premiere venue for South Carolina artists, but didn’t make it into ArtFields, another well-regarded Palmetto State art event known for quality Southeastern artistry.

An undeniable triumph for Porter has been his social media presence. On Instagram, where you can find his Cammie’s Garage profile, his woodworking videos have garnered millions of views. Thousands more have seen his work on YouTube. The viral videos eventually got the attention of the “Star Trek” phenom.

“When George Takei’s social team approached me, I said I really believe in what George Takei stands for,” Porter said.

Takei’s video, which praises Porter’s transition from an animator to woodworker, has gotten more than 600,000 views.

For now, the accolades from Takei seem to be giving Porter a jolt. He sold a piece following the TV star’s praises.

“In the last couple weeks, things have taken an upward swing,” Porter said.

He’s looking to build on that success while also nurturing new angles in woodworking. Recently, he’s delved into carving, creating sea creatures, such as the sea turtle shown in Takei’s presentation and which won him awards at the State Fair. A shark carving is one of his strongest works, Porter believes.

Going forward, Porter hopes to harness his skills on the lathe into more distinct works and to build his carving skills. He wants to try to sculpt a life-sized human figure.

“It’s much more intricate,” Porter said. “But it’s really got to look good not to look weird. The closer you try to get to realism the more strange it can look.”

As he pushes his woodworking to more masterful creations, the support that’s kept Porter inspired has come from someone closer to Columbia than Takei, he said.

“I’m very lucky to have my wife supporting me while I’m establishing myself,” Porter said. “She’s helping and encouraging me to do this.”

Cameron Porter’s shop can be found here.

David Travis Bland won the South Carolina Press Association’s 2017 Judson Chapman Award for community journalism. As The State’s crime, police and public safety reporter, he strives to inform communities about crimes that affect them and give deeper insight into victims, the accused and law enforcement. He studied history with a focus on the American South at the University of South Carolina.