Cathie Anderson

Want to carve out your place in this woodcraft? Start young

Woodcarvers tend to wait until retirement to take up the craft, seeing it as more of a pastime than a career. But all too often, late-blooming artisans begin to see their motor skills deteriorate just as their work matures and they begin to win accolades.

It’s a scenario that well-known local carvers Andy Hiroshima, Bob Travis and Jim Hunter, all members of the Capital Woodcarvers Association, have seen play out. Their club will offer carving demonstrations and classes Saturday and Sunday during the 2016 Woodcarving and Gourd Show at Scottish Rite Masonic Center, 6151 H St., in Sacramento. Tickets are $5.

“We have soap carving for children, so we try to introduce kids to carving,” Hiroshima said. “They have wooden knives. They’re able to make soap animals, not with a whole lot of detail, but it’s fun for them. My grandkids were there last year, and they were ages 3 to 10. It goes all the way up to adults doing it.”

Travis and others will offer more advanced classes for adults who want more of a challenge. The annual show also includes a woodcarving competition, and the winning entries will be displayed. This year’s judges are Janet Cordell, a scion of the famed Denton family of carvers from the Ozarks, and noted Cherokee Nation carver Debbe Edwards from northeast Oklahoma.

To illustrate just how tough a judge Cordell is, Hiroshima shared a story of one of the pieces he entered in the contest last year: “I was the only entry in the category, and I got a second place because one of the legs was an eighth of an inch too long. That’s how critical Janet Cordell can be … You can get a second place, even if you’re the only one in that category.”

Hiroshima, Travis and Hunter all chuckle over the story, but Travis quickly added, “You’d be surprised how many people don’t know that the knees are in the middle of the leg and the elbow’s in the middle of the arm.”

The carver, Hiroshima said, must be constantly measuring and considering proportions. Of the contest result, he said,“That happens, and that’s the way it should be.”

He also recalled a lesson he learned from noted caricature carver Pete Ortel: “He said, ‘Andy, remember this: No matter how hard it is to carve something, if it’s not done well, it’s not done well.’ 

The 71-year-old Hiroshima has carved many pieces well, capturing honors as diverse as a sweepstakes prize from the California State Fair to awards from the Caricature Carvers of America. The latter is a select group of 25 carvers with an invitation-only membership, and one of them is Travis.

A retired professor of agronomy at UC Davis, Travis took up carving at age 39. He went into a store that is a frequent haunt for carvers, Woodcraft of Sacramento, 9523 Folsom Blvd., looking for power tools to help with some cabinetry work he was doing. While there, he stopped and browsed through the book rack and spotted a book by Harold Enlow, a founder of the Caricature Carvers of America, that gave practical advice and demonstrations.

“I was building a fence at the time at home, and I cut a foot off a redwood post and carved a hillbilly that was in his book,” Travis said. “I think that was 1978.”

Travis likes to encourage young people to take up the craft, though he knows they have many other commitments and activities vying for their time.

“Invariably, if you can get young people involved,” he said, “they get excited about it and turn out to be excellent carvers. If you wait until you’re retired and starting to lose your motor skills, it’s not that easy to get started.”

Participating in a club also can save young people from making mistakes that keep them from progressing, said Hunter, whose whimsical bark carvings have won first place in a number of contests. Now age 80, he said he’s been carving for more than 60 years off and on. A few years ago, he joined Capital Carvers and discovered why he had struggled so much with carving.

“The first thing I learned was that I was using the wrong wood,” he said. “That’s why it was so hard and I couldn’t stick with it over the years.”

Cathie Anderson: 916-321-1193, @CathieA_SacBee

2016 Woodcarving and Gourd Show

What: The Capital Woodcarvers Association showcases award winners from its annual contest, demonstrates woodcarving, offers classes and distributes door prizes to attendees. Bob Travis, Jim Hunter and about 20 other club members also will be selling their work at the show, while Andy Hiroshima and a number of others will be displaying but not selling their pieces.

When: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday

Where: Scottish Rite Masonic Center, 6151 H St., Sacramento

Info:, (916) 392-8247