Over the years, I’ve dabbled in oil painting, knitting, needlepoint in its many varieties, and I currently enjoy my passion for writing. I have always been fascinated by what can be done with wood, particularly wood carving. Having had an epiphany that I was hanging around in my head too much, I decided to give this craft a try.
I had no idea there were so many aspects to doing it until I made a return trip to the John C. Campbell Folk School in Brasstown, North Carolina. This school is a magical place where you can spend a week or a weekend learning skills that can jumpstart a hobby, an avocation or a profitable enterprise. The majority of people who participate in the classes are retired and want to continue learning, similar to those people who support the mission of OLLI, where like-minded people gather to learn and oftentimes restore their faith in their ability to learn something new.
The class I chose was called Relief Wood Carving, and it was open to beginners as well as seasoned carvers. The theme for the week at the school was Scottish Heritage, and the class concentrated on the art of Celtic wood designs — specifically, Celtic knots. A neighbor who had retired gave me all his beginners’ tools after deciding that wood carving was not his cup of tea.
Evidently, this craft historically is a pursuit enjoyed by men, and I was surprised to find I was the only woman enrolled in the class. The guys were great, very supportive and patient with this neophyte who thought she was in over her head. My tools were appropriate to what we were carving, but I soon found out that there’s more to this craft than I ever imagined.
I am fortunate to have a utility room at home large enough to accommodate a substantial workbench complete with little cubbies, a drawer, holding pegs and the requisite vice. One of my classmates made me a carving board that holds the wood in place on the bench itself.
While at the class, I managed to finish two pieces which were on display with the others the last day at the school. One piece is a pure Celtic knot; the second piece is more involved. The third piece, a mermaid with more intricate knots, is still a work in progress (the shape of her nose eludes me), and the piece I’m working on now is a flower that requires a little more dexterity than I used before.
The hardest part is identifying which tool works best for each carving design. I compare it with how I learned to play golf by choosing the right club for each shot and how my writing evolves by finding the right word for a specific expression. Learning to paint also involves choosing the right brush. What is most important is a less-practiced skill called patience.
Now I’d like to find a nearby class or other carvers who can help me with future carving ideas and techniques. One of my goals is to learn how to create those fanciful woodland creatures: owls, birds and little gnomes so popular in craft shows. There seems to be no end to what one can do with a little patience and perseverance.
Carol Campbell joined OLLI in 2010 and has taken literature, poetry, short story and writing classes. She has taught over ten life story writing courses for OLLI-USF and has been an active member of the Volunteer Management Committee. Carol isn’t teaching a course this semester (Fall-Winter 2018), but if you click here, you’ll see several other Liberal Arts classes that may interest you. And by “several” we mean “almost one hundred”.