Woodcarving brings relaxation, balance to experts and novices

by Dee Grano

Linda and Joe Johnson from Statesville remark on the “Immaculate Heart of Mary” woodcarving by Eric Lawlor, which won first place in the Novice Religious Figure category at the Charlotte Woodcarvers Club 2012 Showcase last weekend at the Marion Diehl Community Center. (Dee Grano/SCW photo)

It’s hard to believe a novice could carve a 7-foot-tall, 100-pound statue of the Virgin Mary from wood.

That was one of several surprises at the Charlotte Woodcarvers Club 2012 Showcase, held last weekend at the Marion Diehl Community Center on Tyvola Road.

“Immaculate Heart of Mary” won first place in the novice competition for religious figures, one of approximately 31 categories that featured pieces from woodcarvers of all levels of expertise from across the Southeast.  Nationally known “full-time” artists like Tom Wolfe (not to be confused with the author) worked elbow-to-elbow with beginners and experts, littering the gymnasium floor with wood shavings in a timed carving competition.

The showcase drew hundreds from as far away as Virginia, Georgia and Tennessee who perused more than 500 carvings, listened to lectures and learned to appreciate “carving a piece of wood to bring what you see out of it,” as Ray Branch, president of the Charlotte Woodcarvers Club, put it.  Branch encourages anyone with an interest to drop by their Tuesday night meetings from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. at Carmel Presbyterian Church in Cathcart Hall. Find more information at www.charlottewood

Whether whittled from a small block or machined from a log, the pieces on display were as varied as the artists’ reason for carving.  “Look at the detail on the hair,” said one woman while examining a small carving of a fox scratching its nose.  Others photographed larger pieces including a giraffe and lioness that artist David Salser hopes to someday affix to a carousel.

“At their height there were (6,000 to 8,000) carousels in the United States,” Salser said, “but in the 1950s amusement park rides started to change.”  Many carousels were dismantled as collectors claimed the riding horses and animal menagerie.  Hoping to participate in a carousel renaissance, Salser would love to see a carousel in his hometown.  “It seems strange Savannah has never had one.”

“I do it because it’s relaxing,” said Thomas Kavanagh, treasurer of the Charlotte Woodcarvers Club, who spends most Tuesday nights at the club’s weekly gatherings.  “I started when I saw a project in a magazine that was supposed to only take 30 minutes.  It took me three months to finish.”  More accomplished now, Kavanagh placed first and second in the novice competition for small painted caricatures.

The showcase featured woodcarving celebrities like Nebraska-based Desiree Hajny, who works with her husband Bernie writing, traveling, teaching and showing her work.  An art teacher by trade, Desiree Hajny used woodcarving to entice students to enroll in her class.  In 1979 she knew virtually nothing about woodcarving.  “I left teaching to focus on my artwork and spend more time at home with my son,” she said. “Then it just took off.”

Today Desiree Hanjy has written seven books (contributing to eight more), and created commissioned artwork for Disney Animal Kingdom and MGM Grand.  She has represented the United States in international woodcarving conventions.  Bernie Hajny left teaching in 1995 to help his wife and “never looked back.”  They enjoy the variety the road has to offer as well as the time “for a simple life, a daily walk or to play with the dog,” Desiree Hajny added.

As for Eric Lawlor, “It’s something I’ve always wanted to do,” he says of carving the Virgin Mary.  A 2004 journey to Fatima gave him the inspiration; a free piece of Eastern Red Cedar gave him motivation.  When asked what he ultimately intends to do with the carving: “I might sell it,” he hesitates, “but I like having her around.  The past couple of days she’s been in the showcase, the living room feels kinda empty.”

For whatever reason speaks to you, learn more about woodcarving with the Charlotte Woodcarvers Club.  Beginners are welcome and sometimes win big.

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