Entertainment & Life

A longtime hobby is dying. Do you have what it takes to make some beautiful wood art?

Artists at the Capital Woodcarvers Association produce pieces of art like this fishing piece.
Artists at the Capital Woodcarvers Association produce pieces of art like this fishing piece.

Joe You is fascinated by faces. He is a dentist by trade; he has an eye for human physiognomy and is business-like behind a carving knife.

But You also has a whimsical streak and a love for tinkering with art, whether pencil, paint, or wood. In his free time, he is a caricature carver – a “wood cartoonist, and the president of the Sacramento’s longtime carving club, the Capital Woodcarvers Association.

“I try not to make things straight or symmetrical,” said You. “Sometimes, it’s really hard to do that.”

You will be among several artists featured during the CWA’s annual Wood and Gourd Show on Saturday and Sunday at Sacramento’s Scottish Rite Masonic Center. The show is part exhibit, part sale and part competition, as judged by a panel from the California Carvers Guild.

Multiple artist demonstrations are scheduled for both days, including glueing, gourd carving, bark carving, and walking stick carving. In addition, face-carving demonstrations will be performed Saturday by both You and fellow club member Andy Hiroshima.

Other events include hourly door prizes, silent auctions, and the chance to buy tools, wood, gourds and books.

“We’re here to promote the art of woodcarving,” said You. “This is an introduction. … Our club exists to just get other woodcarvers together, encourage them to continue carving, and get new people who might be interested.”

Getting into the club

Twice a month, CWA club members meet at Woodcraft of Sacramento for carving sessions. The rest of the time, smaller groups meet as space and time allow.

Longtime carver Shirley Coffelt hosts a carving session/potluck every Monday in River Park. Club members sit around a table, compare their progress, offer carving tips and trade shoptalk.

Club members practice a variety of techniques, including caricature, chip relief, wildlife and bark carving.

While they share tips, inspiration can lurk in odd places for these artists.

You, for instance, stumbled across the woodcarvers, joined a carving club, and started carving a Santa.

It was the first of many Santas, and he still shows it to beginning carvers – proof that “nobody just wakes up a great carver one day.”

“I spent hours and hours and hours,” he said. It was too square, so he kept carving off little bits. It always looked too square, and he kept carving more.

“And now I look at it – and it’s too square,” said You. Most carvers leave the wood too flat when they start out, worried about removing too much wood. “You have to train your eyes.”

He still keeps his first Santa in his backyard art studio. It sits on a shelf in his backyard studio, alongside some of You’s most elaborate, sophisticated works – a sculpture of Monet painting a Monet, carved from a single block.

“You have to understand what looks good, what doesn’t look good, and where you want to go.”

For future wood carvers

Though the club includes experts, it welcomes everybody. The club’s secretary, Alison Cook, is a cottonwood bark carver.

“Every piece is different,” Cook said. “That appeals to me.”

She didn’t take up bark carving right away, but she returned next year to see the bark carvings again. “I said, ‘Wow, I’d like to do that,’” Cook said. “And there was this woman just standing there who said, ‘Oh, I teach that.’”

And so Cook learned how to carve bark houses – a rock, a brick, a shingle, a roof.

That experience is open to anybody interested in the arcane craft.

CWA members are eager to pass their craft along to future generations. You is philosophical on the subject. “With almost any kind of a hobby that’s time-consuming … you’re competing against cellphones … against the internet,” he said.

“You need a lot of patience to sit down and carve for three hours.”