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Scott G. Winterton, Deseret Morning News
On Friday at the Great Salt Lake Woodcarvers Show, visitors look over a variety of items created by woodcarvers at skill levels ranging from beginner to expert. The show was held at Wheeler Farm.

Lynn Holyoak knew he'd need a hobby after a spinal fusion laid him up for three months. He'd always enjoyed whittling, so friend Riley Olson introduced him to the Great Salt Lake Woodcarvers.

"I didn't know anything like that existed. I started filling the house with wood chips," he said.

Soon his daughter, Jenette Scott, wanted to learn and began attending the group's monthly workshops at Wheeler Farm. Then she taught her son, Christopher, to do wood burnings, and all three had exhibits on display at the annual carving show and competition at the farm Friday and Saturday.

Scott said carving is relaxing for her. She likes to sit on the lawn of her West Jordan home with some wood and a tool and work while she watches her children play. Relaxation is the most common motivation for carving, said Riley Olson, past president and current secretary of the group.

"We find in this stressful world these kinds of activities are good for getting rid of stress," he said. "People say I must have a lot of patience. No. It's an absolute joy. I find peace and harmony in this kind of thing."

The ability to take a plain piece of wood and create something unique, fun or beautiful with one's own skill and creativity is what attracts people to the hobby, Olson said. Even when young people start and then quit because other things take priority, he usually sees them return after a few years because they missed it.

In addition to every kind of wood sculpting, carving and burning, the show featured carved emu and ostrich eggs done with a special drill similar to a dentist's, as well as large, engraved and painted gourds. One man made a replica of his great-grandfather's fiddle entirely by hand without the aid of power tools.

In spite of Olson's protest that "patient" isn't the right word to describe woodcarvers, most of the items on display took dozens, if not hundreds, of man-hours. An award-winning sculpture of a three-foot fish was covered in tiny scales smaller than BB pellets that were individually imprinted with a wood burner.

The piece isn't perfect, Olson points out. The fish's gills should have been more open. Constructive criticism from veterans is one of the main draws of the show, he said. But it's not a competitive atmosphere; carvers support one another and share expertise. Every Tuesday from 6 to 9 p.m. carvers congregate on the lawn at the ice house at Wheeler's Farm and work together for a couple of hours, sharing ideas and offering suggestions. Not understanding the best wood, tools and techniques to use on different projects makes them harder and increases the likelihood that a person will give up. The goal of the club is to help everyone improve while having the best time possible, Olson said.

"It's fun making something and then showing other people what can be done. I love making something to give to grandkids or neighbors," said Lynn Gottfredson, who learned to carve at the West Jordan senior center.

To win shows and compete nationally, a carver should be an expert bird carver. The ability to make a piece of wood resemble a living creature, especially one with colorful and soft feathers, takes incredible skill, Olson said.

To learn how, he traded plumbing work with an expert for lessons on making ducks.

When a neighbor found out he studied ducks, she brought him a chick that had lost its mother. He explained he was only a carver, but knowing she had no one else to give it to, he accepted it anyway. He fed it with an eye dropper at first and soon it accepted him as its "mother," becoming his model and friend.

"Birds have so much personality," he said. "She taught me about life and introduced me to a different realm. She taught me to pay attention to what was really important and to have respect for how intelligent other life forms are."

Being able to examine her wings and feathers was so helpful to his carving that he has since obtained a mandarin drake and a ringneck dove.

Because the "expert" levels at competitions are filled with so many carvings of waterfowl and other wildlife like fish, the carver must also demonstrate creativity to win. A fish eating a dragonfly or swimming past a crayfish will do better than a plain fish.

"It comes down to creativity, and that aspect has a lot of appeal to people. The more they get into it, the more creative they become," he said.

For more information, contact Ross Rigby at 263-7877.

E-mail: akirk@desnews.com