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Saturday, June 26, 2010

Carving Out Some Time

My new commitment to be a full-time writer after all these years of making it a vital part, but not the only part, of my life is gradually being realized. I can say No more easily to pleas for my presence at social justice events, for donations to good causes, for serving on committees that work for inclusion in all of life's opportunities. The result has been some publishing successes with poems, and now a contract for a book about children who survived WWII. Beyond that, it is the exhilaration I feel with this new life for me, where I can still promote good causes, but through words more than through actions.

Even so, the need to have tangible pieces of creative work other than poems and stories seeks fulfillment. For me it is through chip carving, a process of cutting out chips in a flat wood surface to create something visual through figures, letters, contrasts between light and dark. It is an ancient craft, and for some it is an art. For me, it is therapy -- a time to design something on a piece of basswood or beechnut and then carve out the shapes. Once the design is in place, the part that is fun begins: to carve and let my mind wander where it will as I move into a more contemplative state.

The greatest joy of such a time, however, is in the presentation of the completed carving to someone as a gift. Wedding presents, thank-you's, birthdays, anniversaries, special events, they all are possibilities for doing another carving. Those that don't end up very well stay at home to be enjoyed here.

The process is rather simple: first comes the wood -- a plate, a box, a plaque, even a bowl, or some unusually-shaped object will do. The varieties are endless. I have a set of coasters that didn't make it as a gift because I punctured a hole in one, a plate that had the same accident, pieces that stained poorly, and the like. But they are nevertheless accomplishments. After choosing the wooden shape, a design is necessary before cutting into the wood. I have many many books and carving magazine photos to stimulate ideas, so if I use my own ideas it is usually as an adaptation rather than something totally original. The technique of carving and finishing the wood make it my own work.

My carving has never been as clean cut as those by instructors who have taught me at the John Campbell Folk School, but sometimes I get it almost right. Geometric or organic patterns both have their attractions, and I usually combine these for contrast. The finishing touches are where I often do a less than accurate job -- too much stain in spots, missing some little cuts and not seeing those until the polyurethane spray has been applied, too dark or too light at times, but when it works well, the wood finish makes all the difference.

The major difference for me, however, is not so much in how a piece looks after it is finished, but how I feel about having created something that was not there before. As in words I write. Making something exist, something that is tangible that the eye can see and the mind and spirit can relate to in some way. I don't know how all this works, but when it comes together, somehow it's the way it was supposed to be.

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