I am a woodcarver.
Wow!!! I didn’t think I would ever say those words. But a few days ago, Hubs and I loaded up our knives, (Yes, I even owned one with my initials burned into the handle), and headed out for another adventure. We drove a few hours and across a couple of state lines into the Pocono Mountains to a lovely lodge retreat. A rustic log structure ringed with stately blue spruces watered by a mountain lake-majestic! I had packed all of my necessary items, you know, my knitting, a beading kit, rug hooking frame, toothbrush, etc. Leaving home with no intention of carving wood, I was looking forward to our lakeview accommodations to catch up on some serious sleep and entertaining myself while the Hubs pursued his passion to carve chunks of wood into heirlooms.
As we approached our destination, dear Hubs suggested that I consider taking a class or two also. He informed me that the beginner classes promised to be helpful and brief. After much discussion of my feeling awkward and lack of training, I left the idea to ponder.
You see, a little over two decades ago, my dad, husband, and young sons began carving, attending classes and churning out some amazing pieces. At the time, this busy mom was happy to send the aforementioned sons off in the care of their older generations and chill while they were being creative. I always admired their pieces and the whole process fascinated me. But I had plenty to do and was content to leave it to them.
I did attempt a small dog figure once with my daddy, but my lack of confidence at handling the super sharp knives and a novice skill level caused me to assume that this ability had skipped a generation.
Maybe because of a desire to do something special with my wonderful Hubs, along with Daddy’s recent passing away, plus my appreciation for the beautifully carved pieces that I have long admired, I changed my mind. Once we arrived, Hubs and I signed up for a class for the very first night and one at every time slot available to us in our limited time there.
The first evening we were introduced to all of the instructors with a sample of their work. It was enough to convince me that it was something we could enjoy together, even if I had much to learn.
Our first class was together, which gave me courage. Sitting beside my beloved, I put on protective armor. A cut-resistant glove shielded one hand and a leather thumb guard protected my left hand. Yep, I am a lefty! I watched as one instructor wrapped his thumb round and round with a long cushioning strip of masking tape. Later, I would learn an important trio of cuts, one of which, would make this padding prove useful.
Daring to be different, I chose a roughed out piece of mahogany wood rather than the softer bass wood that Hubs said would be easier to carve. “No worries”, I thought. It would result in a comfort bird in my favorite color. The first thing I learned about carving is that some types of wood yield easier to the blade that others. Because of my deep fear of slicing off a digit, or taking off more than was needed to achieve a cute little bird from the stick held in my gloved hand, I made only a small pile of chips that first night. But I was extremely happy. I loved the idea of making this little comfort bird. The teacher said the completed piece was very soothing to hold and stroke. It becomes smoother and more tinted by the oils in one’s hand. A very tactile piece, he gives them to elderly patients and those who can enjoy them to relieve stress. (As a note, I came home and just finished my third one so far). I loved sitting beside my sweet soulmate and sharing this moment in time together. I loved knowing that he had faith in my abilities and encouraged me to try something new and step out once again from my comfort zone. I loved the idea that maybe it hadn’t skipped me after all. I loved the sweet memories of mom and me watching men we loved, carving together around vacation campfires. And I loved knowing that I was doing something that my dad loved to do and this connection I felt to him.
The next day, Hubs and I parted ways after a fortifying breakfast of eggs, bacon and coffee, me to the beginner class, and him to a much more advanced class matching his skill level.
While he carved a tall caricature of a sailor, I learned the reasons for stop cuts into the wood, the benefit of the guard when making long sweeping cuts toward my leathered thumb, the added strength of pushing the knife with my gloved thumb. My mentor gave lengthy descriptions of the types, colors and grains of various woods and the importance of safety before we practiced our newly acquired skill set. He then encouraged us, evaluated our progress and presented each of us with a certificate and the words, “You now are a Woodcarver!”
Making new friends, I spent a few hours sitting under a camper awning and learning their stories while we beginners chipped wood onto the ground as if we were seasoned like the rest. Of course, people are my real passion, art just a way to connect us, so I treasure the new names and faces that I can weave into my own story.
Connecting with Hubs, we talked of our day’s learning over dinner and then moved to a Santa ornament class together. Fortunately for me, his previous carving lessons and a patient and talented teacher sent me away with an almost completed holiday piece and lots more joy.
Our final day sent us in different directions once again. He started a comical but well dressed bunny figurine, while I bravely started a small Santa statue.
Sitting beside a retired Pastor and across from another new acquaintance, we each worked on different pieces but shared similar stories of faith, family and life experiences as we worked. More names and sweet faces into my life tapestry. What fun!
Due to a demanding work schedule and forced to leave earlier than most, we packed up our freshly-made treasures, new names and exchanged contact information, a few supplies for practicing, and left with joyful hearts and hopes of attending annually to reconnect with our new friends.
What a great journey !!
Tell me your story. Are you a carver, collector, or admirer of this artistic expression? Comment below or on my social media links. Please feel free to share this post and subscribe to receive updates. Come back later to see more of our finished pieces after we apply a little paint. I am also digging up some family photos and will tell you more of my dad’s carving legacy.
Thanks Hubs, Floyd, Mary, Jack, Arland, and all the rest for inspiring me, (and of course, Daddy).
Until next time,