"I've always wanted to be a woodcarver for some silly reason. For personal fulfillment, you know there's no real money in art right?" Tom Collins joked with a smile.
Woodcarvers from around the state and Northwest convened at the Missoula County Fairgrounds this weekend for the 2018 Montana State Woodcarvers' Show, displaying hundreds of beautifully ornate and incredibly detailed pieces of work.
Skill levels ranged from novice to expert, with pieces depicting fish, birds, other wildlife and even little wooden Santa Clauses — among other things.
Collins said he has been carving wood for seven years and draws inspiration for his pieces from life experiences that will also challenge his skills.
The piece he finished just before the show and had on display was a polished cowboy rolling a cigarette and was carved out of basswood.
"I was raised by old-time cowboys and they all smoked Bull Durham (tobacco) back in the day," Collins, the show coordinator, said. "So then I just thought, 'I want to process that.'"
Another carving Collins was particularly proud of was a piece he titled "Severed." After spending time in Sierra Leone, he reflected on his time there and carved the piece out of birch wood. It depicted kids playing soccer in the background and with a one-legged kid in the foreground.
"How do you process a pretty impactful trip? So then I carved this," Collins said as he showed a photograph. "It shows the damage to the young people, that generation. You got a one-legged kid and it's like 'My future's changed.'"
This year's featured carver was Jim Rose of Helena, who's been carving for 25 years, although he didn't feel he was worthy of being the featured carver. The humble 89-year-old said he's probably carved a couple hundred pieces during that time span.
"Generally, I have to see something, I'm not someone who can visualize," Rose said of how he comes up with new ideas. "If it's not in front of me, I don't see it."
Currently, Rose is working with three other artists on carving a kestrel, a bird that's part of the falcon family.
Show attendees were also able to take part in wood carving classes over the course of the weekend. Sunday, Ron Crowder was teaching a group of about 12 people different techniques in carving and painting.
Donna Syvertson was one of the individuals partaking in the session, learning how to wash colors and create textures like leather and denim. She said she used to be a member of the Missoula Carving Club and is starting to gain interest in the discipline again.
"I've got all the tools and stuff, I just lost interest for a while but now it's coming back," Syvertson said. "Something to do in my retirement."
Sitting at a table in the back of the room, Paulette Parpart was just starting on a piece of basswood. She said she isn't sure if she's found her niche yet but likes to do pieces that don't have faces because "I always cut off noses."
Indubitably, Parpart said the camaraderie and social atmosphere is one of her favorite aspects of the woodcarving community, adding everyone helps everyone.
"We're just really good, fun people who like to talk, like to visit," Parpart said. "Woodcarving gives us a focus to share with each other."
While woodcarving may not be for everyone, Collins said if you're thinking about giving it a try, you should.
"It's just a kick in the pants," Collins said. "I don't know what else to say about woodcarving other than it's very satisfying."
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