Issue Features

A Wood Carver's Journey

Nov 28

Elizabeth Mann

Carving begins with a vision, and for Dave Carter, his mountain home in Blairsville, Georgia, is a constant source of inspiration. From his home porch, he can watch as black bears, deer, and other animals meander through the woods. He may come across a knobby stump or a fallen limb and visualize what it could become. He patiently chips away the wood until his creation is revealed to others.

Carter’s journey as a carver started with a small hand-carved owl and bear that he still has to this very day. He credits his neighbor John Barker with starting him on the carving path, which began in 2007. While visiting Barker, he observed his friend’s carving work and expressed a desire to learn more. Barker, who is retired, now spends his time traveling, but his love for carving carries on through Carter’s work.

Through experience, participating in workshops, and under the instruction of Helen Gibson, a Resident Carver of the John C. Campbell Folk School, Carter has become a carver in his own right. In 2008, with Gibson’s guidance, he began carving a nativity scene. The ongoing project has been slow and tedious at times, he noted. “Carving the nativity for me is an object of enjoyment, a hobby, and something never to be rushed,” he said. “I am constantly honing my craft. Thus, I am slower in detailing a piece.”

He currently has 13 pieces in his nativity collection, which is to be displayed in his home. And each piece is a labor of love. When he first began carving, he always kept the first piece of anything he carved. Now that he no longer does that, the ongoing process continues as pieces of the nativity set are sold and replaced.

Although Carter, who at 74 is retired, carves for the mere love of doing it, his carvings have been displayed at the Olive Tree Art Centre. He also sells some of his work based on commission and has had clients hail from Georgia, Texas, and even England. Much of his work takes place in a shop he created in the lower part of his home. The shop is purely for personal use and a representation of his dedication to the hobby.

Whether carving professionally or as a hobby, the crafting process requires high quality wood. Carter’s choice of woods include walnut, cherry, and mahogany, but his favorites are basswood and butternut. Specifically, basswood’s soft and close grain allow for patterns to easily be transferred onto the wood. Greater detailed work can be accomplished because it does not chip or break off as easily like other wood does. “I enjoy carving for many reasons, but mainly because I can take a piece of wood and create something from it that is unique and pleasing to the eye,” he said. “It has taught me patience and taking your time. You can’t rush it. If you do, you will forget the grain of the wood with which you are working and lose focus, leading to something breaking.”

Every piece has a story to tell. One of his relief carvings is of a rustic bridge that he passed by many times growing up. Another time he came across a black walnut tree with jagged pieces and limbs. He transformed it into a black bear. “Sometimes you see a piece you relate well with,” he said. The simplest of things are sometimes the ones that give us inspiration in life.

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