On a recent day at the Sterling Senior Citizens Center three rows of tables were set up with people sitting on each side. With their projects and tools placed in front of them, their eyes and hands concentrated on detailed work. Conversation filled the room about the wooden projects that each was creating as they shaped and molded pieces of wood into a beautiful, unique art.
Sterling resident Del Otter formed the Kenai Peninsula Wood Carving Club, or KPWCC, in 2001 when he decided that driving to Anchorage to attend the Alaska Creative Woodworkers Association meetings was hazardous and took too long. Otter started the club at the Sterling Senior Center where it continues to be held today.
“We started out with five people and have grown to around 25 to 30 people and we try to make everything free. There is no cost to the people who come, we have the tools, a wood burner, carving knifes and the projects and it’s free. So if someone comes and doesn’t have the money they can carve something pretty and take it home,” Otter said.
On that recent day, members practiced carving facial expressions after a class taught by member and professional carver John Iverson.
Iverson, who has been carving for more than 22 years, is also a member of the ACWA. He is also an ice carver in the area; he and partner Scott Hanson placed second in the World Championship Ice Carving Competition in Fairbanks. His passion for carving has earned him a little money, he said, but the carvings are also given away as gifts.
The project for the recent meeting was a comfort bird. The bird is first rough cut out of a block of basswood then the carver shapes it into a bird. It is a small bird that fits in the palm of a hand and rubbing it with the thumb and fingers is meant to help with awkward situations and the daily stress of life.
“It makes a great gift for someone that is in the hospital,” Otter said.
Not all of the members carved the comfort bird; some worked on their own projects and attend the meetings to socialize with fellow carvers.
“It’s kind of a release, just to chip away at things and make something out of a piece of wood I really enjoy it. Then there is the camaraderie,” said Glenda Graham who is on the board of directors for the Sterling Senior Center.
Cindy Anthony, who is in her fourth year as a member, took a pattern for a monk and carved it into an Eskimo.
“I got Del to cut out some of the patterns. Then John cut me out a couple that he designed. He said that if you have the arms sick out a little further then you could have them doing different things, like holding a spear or fishing pole,” Anthony, said. “When I first started everybody was so nice to help teach me the basics. Del and John, they’re good at working with you, teaching you how to get started.”
Men and women of all ages are in the club.
The youngest to join was Jene Hall. At age 12 Hall wanted to join the wood carving club but an age limit of 18 kept him from joining. He, and his sister Jodi, convinced their parents to join as a family. Today Jene Hall is still a member and an advanced carver.
Becoming a carver for most is an outlet during the long winter months. They don’t sell their carvings but give them away as gifts.
“Some of the club members had never picked up a carving tool before but after a few meetings and lessons bloom into an extremely talented carver,” Otter said.
Anthony is one of the few who sells her carvings.
“Some of the smaller projects don’t get into big money but are easier to sell than the bigger projects, and they’re harder to move. Especially in Alaska with tourism, if you focus towards the Diamond Willow and people look for carvings of bears, that’s what people like to look for,” she said.
For Bill Basinski, it’s not about the money but the tradition that he can give to his family.
“Several years ago I made angels for my children’s Christmas trees, instead of going to the store and buying them. I saw them in a magazine so I said, ‘I could do that. I’m a woodworker a carpenter, I could do these angels,’ so I played with them and just copied them out of the magazine,” Basinski said. “That sparked the interest and now they are family heirlooms. Instead of having the plastic ones, the wooden angels are going back on the tree every year. The club has a lot of opportunity to make a lot of different things spoons, ornaments these guys are making walking canes there is a lot of different things going on here. The club pulls it all together.”
Each year the club is invited to the Kenai Central High School annual crafts fair where their exhibit gives people an opportunity to experience wood carving firsthand.
The group is also invited to exhibit and enter in Alaska Creative Woodworkers Association competitions.
The next showing, Artistry in Wood, will be at the Northway Mall in Anchorage February 19 through March 2.
The Kenai Peninsula Wood Carving Club meets every first and third Saturday of the month at the Sterling Senior Citizens Center from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. For more information about joining the Kenai Peninsula Wood Carving Club contact Del Otter at 260-3324.