Reminiscent of the TV show “Cheers” – where everybody knows your name – a group of area wood carvers gathers each Tuesday afternoon at the Monona Senior Center.
They number anywhere from eight to 17 any given week, with knives, gouges and chisels resting next to small blocks of wood in varying stages of completion. There’s probably a cup of hot coffee set off to the side, and there’s plenty of banter back and forth.
“It’s a nice comfortable place to come, and there are good people to talk to,” said Terry Cowan, who’s been with the group for about two years. “It’s better than sitting at home and doing it by yourself.”
There are as many ways to carve as there are people sitting around the tables, said Michael Blue. Characterization, realistic, stylized, relief, chip, wood burning and bark carving are among the techniques.
Last week, Connie Miley and Teel Haas were making miniature houses out of cottonwood bark.
“They’re not too big. We actually carve on the bark,” Miley said. “We look at it and try to see what’s inside. It can be whatever you want it to be.”
Both women are adept with their tools, but they know there are others with more skills. And all they have to do is ask.
“Everybody helps everybody,” Haas said.
“They are so good about teaching us,” Miley added. “There are no secrets.”
There are a few members of the group who also sharpen the knives of others, as well as those who make knives.
Like a chef in a kitchen, some carvers have favorite knives or other tools.
“I probably carve 95 percent of my birds with this one knife,” Blue said.
Blue is a master at carving comfort birds – smooth but unpainted songbirds about the size of a finch. Fitting easily into the palm of one’s hand, the birds are given to people in stressful situations.
“I’ve carved about 100 myself, and they’re all over the VA Hospital,” he said. “As a club, we’ve probably done 300-400 and given them to various places.”
Along with the hospital patients, other recipients include those in drug rehab or those in a hospice.
“I made one and gave it to a woman in hospice,” Miley said. “Later, when I went to her funeral, I saw it there. It was just so touching to know it mattered that much.”
Blue can carve a bird in about an hour and 15 minutes, but it takes three or four times as long to sand it to its smooth finish.
Many of the carvers are members of the Capital Area Carvers of Wisconsin.
“We do a lot of outreach, like carving clinics at public libraries, to convey the art of woodcarving,” Haas said. “It’s a pretty simple mission.
“My other hobby is scuba diving, so this is relatively cheap compared to that.”