Walter Channing Jr. was a man who recognized potential, be it in entrepreneurs looking to start businesses, winemakers or the hunks of trees that called to him to be sculpted into works of art.

The sculptor, venture capitalist and co-founder of Channing Daughters Winery in Bridgehampton died, surrounded by his family members, March 12 in Southampton from complications from dementia, his family said. He was 74.

"An immensely imaginative guy," Channing was a "talent scout for people who are worth taking a risk on," said Larry Perrine, founding partner, co-owner and chief executive of the winery. When it came to wood or people, it was "all about the potential and then being supportive and revealing that potential."

As a founder and partner of venture capital business C.W. Group, with specialties in health care and biotech, Channing "attended religiously" major medical conventions, scouting for new ideas and people who were "worth taking a risk on," Perrine said.

A driven person himself, Channing "loved people of accomplishment, no matter what their area -- a mechanic or a Nobel laureate," said his wife of nearly 25 years, Molly Seagrave Channing.

Channing Sculpture Garden in Bridgehampton is shown in a photo from May 15, 2012. Photo Credit: Ian J. Stark

Also a lover of nature, her husband had a special respect for trees, sculpting some into immense objects, such as giant pencils, as well as a variety of playful creatures and the human form, primarily using "wood that died of natural causes," his wife said. He was the "scavenger of all scavengers" whom highway workers called if a huge tree toppled down, saying, "If you come and get it, you can have it."

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He loved to "play with people's expectations," she said, with many of his larger pieces displayed on the winery grounds, including its sculpture garden. Images of inverted trees grace the labels of several types of Channing Daughters wine. Channing planted his first chardonnay vines in 1982, according to the winery website.

"The 'metaphysical twang' he brought to the world" is what he would most want to be remembered for, she said. That was one of his favorite expressions, describing "his art, his personality, and his sense of humor."

Born Sept. 23, 1940, in Boston, Channing was awarded an economics degree from Harvard College and an MBA from the Harvard Business School. He then headed to New York City where he went into health care consulting and later venture capital.

Already bitten by the tree bug -- he did tree trimming as a youth, his wife said, and shared his father's hobby of working with wood -- Channing developed a new mission, that of retrieving and reincarnating discarded trees, stumps and pieces of wood. He was also a distance swimmer.

He retired from his venture capital business in 2009, his wife said.

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In addition to his wife, he is survived by four daughters, Francesca Channing-Secco and Isabella Channing-Secco, both of Manhattan, and Sylvia Channing and Nina Channing, both of Bridgehampton. His first marriage, to actress Stockard Channing, ended in divorce, and his second wife, Rosina Secco, died in 1987.

A memorial is planned for April 25, his wife said, with further details to follow.