First-timer carves against odds


Not only is this John Clay's first appearance at the Whittle the Wood Rendezvous, this is his first wood carving competition.

He is the only competitor in this year's event with either of these two designations -- and he got last pick of the trees.

Clay said he was hesitant to come in the first place, and when he arrived Wednesday, he was overwhelmed.

"When I first got here, I almost went home," he said after seeing the competition's equipment.

But he quickly learned that while the competitors want to win, they enjoy an atmosphere of creativity.

Dave Pike, the city of Craig's Parks and Recreation director, said he really had to press Clay to get him to come to Craig. "But he's having a great time now," Pike said. Last night at the dinner he was going, 'I can't believe this!'"

To ease Clay's worries when he arrived, Mike Shelton, Parks and Recreation foreman, offered him anything he needed, including a chainsaw, gas and a generator for his electric-powered tools.

"There is lots of camaraderie between the carvers," Clay said. "It is so wonderful to be with people who do the same thing."

Because Clay was at an artist's workshop in Albuquerque, he arrived at Whittle the Wood midday Wednesday and missed the lottery for the trees earlier that morning.

"I came in with a pre-conceived notion of what I was going to do, something I had done three or four times," Clay said. But the odd-shaped tree with lots of branches he got stuck with wouldn't work for that idea.

Clay credits Shelton with inspiring him to tackle the tree no one wanted. His alternative carving will be an elf scene inspired by Shakespeare's sprite Oberon.

"The plan was not to come and do something totally new, and that's exactly what I'm doing," he said.

Clay said has known since grade school that he was going to follow art in some direction, but his interest in woodcarving has recently blossomed when he moved to Beulah four years ago.

He works as a part-time handyman, but he also sells his carvings.

"(Carving) has been successful, but I can't quite step over into making it a full-time thing," Clay said.

The Whittle the Wood contest is the first serious step for him, and he said he is floored by the event. He said he would love to make this event his yearly vacation.

"I am so proud of this town for doing this," he said. "They've got great spirit here."

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