Woodcarving is man's social, creative outlet

December 01, 1997

Woodcarving is man's social, creative outlet


Staff Writer

FUNKSTOWN - It's time-consuming and expensive.

Still, Mike Kenyon said he has never regretted accepting mentor Ray Reedy's offer to teach him woodcarving three years ago.

The hobby has proven an enjoyable creative outlet and a handy ice-breaker, said Kenyon, 38, a corrections officer at Roxbury Correctional Institution.

"A lot of people like looking, asking questions. It's a good way to meet girls," said the Funkstown native, who does a lot of his carving and painting at his friend Yan Gao's restaurant, Chan's Wok, just outside his hometown on Alternate U.S. 40.


Sometimes, he said, he'll go to Hagerstown City Park and carve just to meet people.

The social aspect of the hobby is a definite plus, he said.

It also allows for great freedom of expression, Kenyon said.

"You can do about anything," he said. "If you have a picture, you can carve it. If you have it in your mind, you can carve it."

On the down side is the cost, said Kenyon, who estimates he has invested between $3,000 and $3,500 in tools, books and lessons for his passion.

A large chunk of that has gone into learning the in-demand art of duck carving, said Kenyon, who started taking lessons in the specialty in Timonium, Md., last year.

He said he's hoping to offset some of the cost by selling his work. He started last month and now has about 20 orders, he said.

Painted carvings begin at $35 for one of his whimsical Santa designs, which he'll make to order based on the customer's specifications, he said.

Kenyon said he never guessed he had the artistic bent needed for woodcarving when he visited Reedy's Hagerstown home three years ago to talk to his wife, Betty, about an upcoming craft show.

He had recently gotten into crafts, helping a friend make miniature rocking chairs out of clothespins, he said.

Kenyon said he was admiring carvings Reedy, 72, had made when the veteran craftsman made him an offer he couldn't refuse.

"He said he'd like to pass it on to somebody. I said I'd like to learn, so he taught me," said Kenyon, who has since taught his father and several friends the basics of woodcarving.

Kenyon said he keenly remembers the pride he felt when he finished his first solo work, a simple "icicle Santa" about five inches long.

His second piece, a more detailed Santa Claus figurine, paved the way for a line of other Santas ranging from about four inches to nearly two feet.

The Santa carvings take between 10 and 40 hours, he said. The average is 15 hours.

The duck carvings are much harder because of the exactness involved and take a minimum of 50 hours to complete, said Kenyon, who said he has only finished three ducks so far.

"With Santa Clauses, you use your imagination. If you start out with a large nose, you can change it to a skinny nose. With a duck, you've got to get it down to a 16th inch of what it's supposed to be," he said.

Kenyon said he uses basswood from linden trees for the majority of his carvings because, while expensive, it's nice to work with.

"A lot of stuff splinters and cracks. This stays pretty good," he said.

Sometimes, he'll indulge in a cypress knee from the Florida swamps.

They're expensive, hard to carve and difficult to come by, said Kenyon, who said he gets them in Gainesville, Fla., when he's down for Bike Week in nearby Daytona Beach.

But they add an artistic dimension to the hobby by challenging you to use the natural shape of the wood as the basis for your subject.

"They come in different shapes. You've got to look at the shape and figure out what goes in it," said Kenyon, who saw Santa carrying a fir tree in one piece he carved and painted as a Christmas gift for his mother.

Of all subjects, Kenyon said he likes the Santas best.

"It's a happy time. Santa Claus reminds me of good times, Christmas," he said.

Kenyon said he and Reedy would be happy to help others get started in the hobby and are thinking about starting a local woodcarvers' club if enough people are interested.

Kenyon can be reached at 301-739-4472.

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