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Carving out a niche: Woodcarvers gather to learn tricks of the trade

Jim Dockendorf of Somonauk has been carving wood for about five years, and when world-renowned woodcarvers visited Sandwich for the Gathering of Woodcarvers art festival, he didn’t hesitate to enroll in a week-long class.

“My instructor, Vic Hood, was named the best carver in the U.S.,” Dockendorf said. “You just don’t get an opportunity to take a class with him every day. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Having an event like this in Sandwich is great.”

The woodcarving festival at the Sandwich Fairgrounds, offered classes earlier this week and a public exhibition will be held through Sunday, Aug. 13. The event is hosted by the Fox Valley Carving Club in cooperation with the Oswego Area Carvers with assistance from the North Suburban Carving Club.

The event started in 1998 as the Great Pig Out, a pig roast fundraiser benefitting the Boy Scouts. The next year, it transformed into a woodcarving show and was held annually until 2009. After attending a reunion event in 2013, the woodcarvers decided to once again hold the Woodcarving Art Festival this year.

“Early this year, after suspending the event for many years, we decided to resurrect it,” said Mike Noland, GOW’s show chairman. “We wanted to offer a range of classes taught by instructors from all over the country. We’re also excited to show our skills and work to the public.”

The woodcarving classes varied in length from one to five days and included bust carving taught by former Woodcarving Illustrated Magazine “Woodcarver of the Year” Vic Hood from Tennessee, relief and figure carving by Dylan Goodson from Michigan, pyrography by Michele Parsons from North Carolina, knife-making by Denny Neubauer of Rockford and power carving a bird design by Gene Westerberg of Sandwich.

Westerberg, who has been carving wood for more than 60 years, chose to teach how to use power carving to create a downy woodpecker from tupelo wood in his four-day class.

“I usually teach birds because anyone can do it and they make great gifts to give away,” Westerberg said. “In my class, I teach carving, texturing and painting. I’m a retired teacher and have been teaching woodcarving since 1987. The best part of teaching is to see the results of my students and to see how they keep getting better and better.”

Professional woodcarver Dylan Goodson from Michigan travels around the United States to teach classes. His GOW five-day class taught either relief carving or human figures.

“I am teaching how to put perspective in relief and how to create the illusion required to make your carving realistic,” Goodson said. “What I love the most about teaching woodcarving is that it’s for everybody, all levels and any age. If it can be imagined, you can carve it out of wood.”

Women also participated in the festival: Karina Sirota of Long Grove attended the relief carving class, Ginny LaVelle from Iowa took the power carving class and Michele Parsons taught the class on pyrography.

“Woodcarving is popular with both sexes, and pyrography is becoming more and more popular,” Parsons said. “Pyrography, also called fire drawing or wood burning, used to be a hobby of Victorian housewives. Now, a lot of women do it to help put the finishing touches on their husbands’ work.”

Keith Litvan of Plano said the best part of being a carver is that it is an outlet for creativity and artistic expression for everyone with any skill.

“Carving is for everyone, and there’s always something new for everyone to learn,” Litvan said. “I love that we can take wood, a raw material, and make it into something beautiful. It’s challenging and complex, but a lot of fun.”

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