Woodwackers club offers friendship, tutoring for carving enthusiasts

The Woodwackers Carving Club of Big Rapids is creating this Noah’s Ark to be displayed and later used in a benefit for Artworks. Each club member drew a type of animal from a hat and is carving a pair of them for the Ark. (Pioneer photo/Candy Allan)

BIG RAPIDS — For the members of the Woodwackers Carving Club of Big Rapids, the group is more than just a time to share a hobby with like-minded enthusiasts.

“It’s a second family,” said club member LouAnne Stearns. “For some of us who are a little longer in the tooth, you can choose between sitting home and doing nothing or getting out with a good group of good people.

“We share a lot of ideas. We laugh a lot, and we carve a little, too,” she laughed.

As members file into club founder Bette Hartig’s basement — a woodcarver’s dream space — they spend the first several minutes catching up on each other’s lives and families before sitting down to the task at hand.

At one end of the room is a coffee pot. Immediately opposite are dozens of cups on hooks, with each person’s name written on a piece of masking tape. The rest of the available space is devoted to tools, reference and idea books, paint and finishing supplies and carving projects in varying states of completion.

The club initially began in 2000. Hartig and Merrilee Johnson had been driving to Evart every Thursday evening for two or three years to participate in a carving club when the two women decided to begin a club in Big Rapids. The group initially met in the Fairman Building downtown before switching to Hartig’s home in 2004 or 2005. Today, the group has about 30 members.

(From left) Doug Fonner and Margo SanCartier work on their latest carving projects during a meeting of the Woodwackers Carving Club of Big Rapids. (Pioneer photo/Candy Allan)

“Carving lets you do something with your hands instead of just with your head,” said Jan Campbell, club president. “After you’ve been here a while, you’ve made friends, too.”

The club meets from 7 to 9 p.m. on Mondays, 1 to 3 p.m. on Tuesdays and 10 a.m. to noon on Wednesdays. Members attend the session that best fits their schedule. New members are welcome to join the group.

“Mondays in the evening takes care of the working people,” Hartig said. “Tuesdays is mostly retired people, and Wednesdays is a bunch of us who just carve all the time.”

In addition to creating decorative objects for their own homes or to give as gifts, the club often carves items to be given away or benefit a nonprofit organization. For example, they’ve carved and given to Hospice of Michigan more than 400 comfort crosses and dozens of comfort birds.

“It’s just something small to hold on to and lets people know other people care about them,” Campbell said.

George Melby carves a figurine he plans to give as a Christmas gift during a meeting of the Woodwackers Carving Club on Tuesday. (Pioneer photo/Candy Allan)

The group also has carved dozens of eagle heads for the Lean on Me program, which provides personalized canes with handcarved eagle heads for veterans. Currently, the entire club is creating a Noah’s Ark, with several pairs of animals, to be displayed at Artworks and then put into an upcoming Artworks benefit.

While the group likes to help the community, they carve because of the tactile pleasure of creating something.

“Wood is a magical thing. You take a block of something, like that chunk right there,” said Campbell, indicating a piece of wood on the table. “Inside of that is something else, and you can bring it out.”

Sometimes, it takes a little coaching to help make the magic happen. Club members often help each other with suggestions for projects or finishing techniques, and novice carvers are happily welcomed to learn the skill. The group shares their expertise not only in weekly meetings but also at annual events in the area.

“It’s kind of a legacy,” Stearns said. “We go to the Woodcarvers Roundup in Evart in January in an effort to continue the art form. I think one of the greatest things is when kids sit down at the table. For me, when I see younger people carving, it’s not only continuing the tradition but it means they don’t have a piece of electronics in their hand.”

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Posted by Candy Allan

Candy is the Pioneer's associate editor. She also coordinates the Family & Friends, Religion and Parenting pages. She can be reached by phone at (231) 592-8386 or by e-mail at callan@pioneergroup.com.

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