Woodcarvers use Inman club to pass down craft


Recorder News Staff

For the woodcarving club at the Horace J. Inman Center, Thursdays are all about camaraderie and learning a new craft.

The club has been meeting since the 1970s, now sporting about a dozen residents from across the area, including Amsterdam, Gloversville, Glenville, Cobleskill, and Albany, among others.

"We learn from each other here," said Eric Lawrence, a group member of about 15 years. "Everybody's always sharing new ideas and new techniques ... This is a growth group where we really grow from each other's experience."

Lawrence, a resident of Halfmoon, has been carving for quite a long time. It was never a part of his business life, but he had an interest in art, specifically three-dimensional figures. And upon hearing this, his wife directed him to the Amsterdam group.

"This group of carvers here is some of the best."

A member of the group who specializes in Scandinavian Flat Plain carving informally became his mentor.

"He just kept encouraging me, encouraging me, and coaching me as to what to do next," Lawrence said. "He encouraged me and taught me a lot."

And that's the nature of this group. When a new member comes on, the other members take them under their wing and coach them.

That's the period that Vince Carelli is currently in.

Carelli, an Amsterdam resident, started woodcarving just this winter while spending time in Florida. Thursday was Carelli's third time meeting with the group at the Inman Center.

"The camaraderie is great. They give you incite into how to do things and what to look for," Carelli said, adding that the help not only goes for the carving, but what tools to use as well.

Time goes by quick when you're carving, Carelli said, and it's fun.

"If I can get as good as these guys someday, that will great."

As a beginner, Carelli is working on a small cowboy boot, something Lawrence said is one of the best pieces to start with.

"You learn an awful lot about wood grain and the wood texture by carving that because of the shape of the boot. You're carving in different directions with and against the grain," Lawrence said. "Something like that gets you started and then you can pretty much go off in any direction you want."

And those directions are many in the Amsterdam group. Lawrence focuses on 3-D figures. Glenville resident Bill Johnsen likes to focus on small figures and wooden utensils with figures on the top. Lawrence Spinak, aGloversville resident and a woodcarver of 60 years, now focuses on tiny 3-inch figurines. Michael Febbie focuses on larger pieces, 3-D portraits of people.

This is one of the reasons the club members want residents to come to their Woodcarvers Show on May 18.

"They will see quite a variety of things, of carvings," Johnsen said. "People that come to it will find that people are very interested in talking to people about the work they're doing. It's really a very friendly experience."

The carvers don't really sell their pieces at the show, they just show them. Johnsen said there's enough family and friends to give the pieces away to. And for Spinak, that's what keeps him carving.

"The smile that comes on the person's face that I give it to, you can't put a price tag on it," Spinak said.

Each piece carved is another lesson learned for these carvers. Febbie, who is legally blind, has found his new niche to be large 3-D portraits, similar to busts, of others.

"I'm really learning a lot. I couldn't draw a face before, when I first started," he said. "But by doing these and practicing, you get to learn how to draw besides woodcarving."

Spinak said that for him, it's constantly about studying anatomy and trying to recreate a caricature and keep the anatomy fairly correct, but exaggeration is expected and can lead to new and exciting designs.

"It doesn't have to be an absolute copy of the thing you're interpreting," he said. "As I go, I learn by doing. Most of the time you make a mistake and the mistakes turnout better than what you planned in the first place.

"You can't give up. Stick with it until something happens. And it will happen."

Febbie hopes that the event will draw passion like this from others in the community, specifically the younger generation.

"We're trying to promote carving," he said. "We want to keep it going."

The carving show will be May 18 at the Inman Center. The entrance fee is $2 and there will be an auction later in the day. All proceeds will benefit the Inman Center.