A group of woodcarvers who meet twice a month in Union do more than practice their craft when they gather.
Tri-County Woodcarvers, many of whom are seniors, socialize and lend an ear during the group meetings at Hardee’s, said club member Judy Mitchell.
“It is very much a stress reliever to carve away,” she said, “and we can talk and get our problems out.”
Mitchell and Dennis Fischer, both seniors, began the group in 2004.
Mitchell added that what attracts some to the group is there are no officers, no dues and no formal meetings. The group is open to all ages, and there has been a member as young as 15, and as old as 85.
The more experienced members often teach the younger ones, she added.
“That’s what appeals to people. They can sit and carve and get advice,” Mitchell explained.
Fischer, of Villa Ridge, often teaches newcomers through a ‘three-minute owl” project, which uses about four common woodcarving cuts, “to get handy with the knife.”
“New members don’t know where to get wood or patterns,” Fischer added. “We help get them get started.”
There are many different styles to woodcarving, including whittling, relief carving, character carving and stylist carving, among others.
“Some do animals, some do characters and relief carvings — the sky’s the limit,” he said, “whatever they want to do.”
Fischer said he began whittling as a young boy.
He explained that his neighbor was a whittler and gave him a pattern for a chain and helped the boy get started. He didn’t carve long while he was young, but many years later, in 1993, Fischer found that old chain at his mother’s home. He picked up woodcarving again.
He has been carving ever since. For a while he was making Santa Claus figures.
I like Santa Clauses, until I got burnt out,” Fischer said.
He noted that for 15 years he has been making 14 ornaments each year for family members.
Mitchell said she started woodcarving in 1992 when she saw a carousel at Forrest Park. She mentioned that she’d like to be able to carve wood like that.
She met a woodcarving teacher from Chicago, who was originally Lithuanian, and she flew to the Windy City for lessons.
“That got me started,” she said.
Today Mitchell often works in “stylized carving,” and sometimes captures the motion of horses. She added that she never carves the details like eyes and nostrils.
She also makes comfort birds that are given to patients who can hold them and rub the wood. She has made several, including one for a man fighting leukemia in Florida.
“I think it is worth it to have several of these ready,” she said.
Each of the woodcarvers has a different carving history.
Don Hall of St. Clair has been carving for four years.
“I always did like to whittle,” he said. “I fell in love with it and I have been doing it ever since.”
Hall picked up the hobby after he retired from work, but he watched his grandfather while he was young, and he would “pretend to whittle and spit, alongside him.”
Charlotte Archer came to a club meeting to visit with Mitchell, her former neighbor.
“I came in one night and did a three-minute owl in a half of an hour and I kind of got hooked,” she said.
Archer also is painter.
“It’s art — it’s therapeutic,” she said. “When I sit down to paint I can get lost in it. I can do that with carving.
Archer added that her father had been a longtime carver, but no longer is able to.
“He really thinks it’s great that I’m doing this,” he said.
There are several couples who are part of the club, including Don and Donna Eichholz of Marthasville who started woodcarving about three years ago.
The couple had taken a carving lesson in Arizona during the winter and joined the Tri-County Woodcarvers the following summer.
Other members of the club are Sam and Katy Boyer, Larry Cerutti and his son, Tyler; Clara Hall, Judy Fischer and Linda King.
The club is open to new members, and meets at Hardee’s the second and fourth Monday of each month. The restaurant manager, Jeremy Meissner, allows the group to congregate there for the evening.