Eleven Whittle the Wood Rendezvous carvers are putting the final touches on sculptures they began earlier in the week. Their carvings will be judged this afternoon at Craig City Park.

Photo by Hans Hallgren

Eleven Whittle the Wood Rendezvous carvers are putting the final touches on sculptures they began earlier in the week. Their carvings will be judged this afternoon at Craig City Park.

Carving a masterpiece, slice by slice

Whittle the Wood Rendezvous participants look toward today's events

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If you go

What: Ninth Annual Whittle the Wood Rendezvous

Where: Craig City Park

When: 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. today

• Includes voting on the woodcarving competition entries, food and crafts from more than 25 vendors and live music by The Erik Johnson Band and Restless Heart

• For more information, call Dave Pike, Parks and Recreation director, at 826-2006

— The Ninth Annual Whittle the Wood Rendezvous features the woodcarving talents of 11 entrants, four of whom are new to the Craig competition. While all are enjoying the use of Craig City Park to shape their stumps into artistic creations, those who are in their first year in town have a fresh take on the procedure.

Audrey Mutschelknaus, hailing from Hoskins, Neb., values the effort that Craig Parks and Recreation has put into entertaining her and her fellow colleagues.

"They put us up in hotels and provide us with food," she said. "I really like the free food, because I'd rather not worry about cooking right now."

Mutschelknaus, who will be moving to Cañon City following Whittle the Wood, is completing her sculpture of a cowboy in a cannon, titled "Cannonball Bob."

In addition to complimentary lodging and meals, each carver is given $150 to cover their travel expenses, an offer appreciated by returning carver Rick Burgess, of North Platte, Neb.

"It's really not too bad a drive," he said. "It's a lot of fun, so who cares about the price of gas?"

Burgess, crafter of this year's "Fallen Feather," also enjoys seeing new faces at the event.

"It's interesting to see new people and what kind of things they bring to the competition," he said.

Burgess was responsible for bringing one of the new competitors to Craig. His friend, Mark Rexinger, of Lincoln, Neb., accompanied him to last year's contest.

"I was impressed when I came up here with Rick, so I thought I would enter this year, myself," he said. "I just love being here. It's a great experience."

Rexinger's eagle-themed "Birds of Paradise" is the latest in his many eagle sculptures. He jokes that carving the birds is all he knows how to do.

Another new entrant stays true to his style, as well. Ron Eye, of Vernal, Utah, specializes in Western-themed carvings.

"My business is called Wild and Western Wood Creations," he said. "This is the first time I've shown my work at a competition."

Eye, working on the Western piece "We Were Free," has been carving full-time for one month. The works that he will sell at Whittle the Wood include a full-sized buffalo, among other animals native to the area.

Jeff Klatt, of Storm Lake, Iowa, has traveled the farthest of any of this year's carvers. His sculpture, "The Guardian," is an eagle with an Indian underneath its wing.

Working with a chainsaw for nearly two decades, Klatt has competed in numerous carving competitions, placing fifth overall in the 2006 National Chainsaw Sculpting Invitational in Hackensack, Minn. He has run his business, Runaway Saws, full time for five years.

"I've done a lot of jobs all over the place," he said. "I really didn't even have time to come out here, but I wanted to do at least one competition this year, because I haven't been able to do any others."

Whether new or old, carvers stand the same chance of winning first through third place or the additional awards Artist's Choice and People's Choice. The cash prizes are $750 for first, $500 for second and $250 for third, with plaques for the Choice awards.

Black Forest resident James Schultz has competed in all but one year of Whittle the Wood, winning first place and People's Choice for "Honey Tree" in the event's first year.

"A lot of the stuff I've done in the last few years didn't place as well as I'd hoped," he said. "I thought my carving of Winnie the Pooh stood a chance, but I guess not. It's all for fun, though."

Schultz's newest entry is a venture from his usual bear carvings. "Make a Wish" is a candle with the number "100" on its front, in honor of Craig's centennial.

Andy Bockelman can be reached at 875-1796.

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