Robert Waits spent his Friday afternoon at Loudy-Simpson Park enjoying the scenery, speaking with those milling about the park and checking out the almost-finished carvings.
Waits had the luxury of being finished with his wood carving for the 14th annual Whittle the Wood Rendezvous competition His masterpiece was a giant wooden hippie he carved out of a cottonwood tree trunk.
Being ahead of the game allowed Waits to enjoy the park as it continues to transition from a more intense, artistic scene into more of a festive, community-oriented atmosphere. That process had begun Friday afternoon, as vendors were setting up booths, the music stage was set and community members were enjoying the park and the work of the artists in around them.
“I don’t like to be carving up to the last minute,” Waits said. “Sometimes it happens, but I like to be able to relax more the last day. I’ll probably make some more pieces for the silent auction here and there, but the big one’s done.”
The 10 other artists in the competition still were diligently cutting and detailing their sculptures, but none appeared to be in danger of cutting it close with the 3:30 p.m. judging deadline Saturday.
Faye Braaten said if she got cooperative weather, she should be able to finish Friday night.
“I’m shooting for tonight,” she said. “All I’ve got left is detailing, which I thought was going to be a couple hours at first. But there are so many leaves, it may take more like a half a day.”
Braaten’s carving, featuring a variety of flowers, has come together nicely she said, complimenting the excellent piece of wood she had to start the project.
For the past three days the artists have carved in a circle in close proximity to one another, always able to see what the others are doing. Waits said that hasn’t been intimidating though, but rather fun to be around the other carvers and share in some tricks of the trade.
“They used to put us kind of all over the park, but I like it this way,” he said. “We’re all buddies, and it’s pretty inspiring to see the others work. People show up with some awesome ideas. It’s really cool to watch some of them, where you don’t know what it is the first couple days, take shape.”
Patrick Armstrong has been carving for a couple years but Whittle the Wood is his first carving competition. His mentor, John Clay is a former winner at Whittle the Wood who became very ill in the past year, so Armstrong wanted to carve in his honor.
The experience has been everything he hoped for, he said.
“It’s been awesome,” Armstrong said. “I really just came here wanting to finish a piece, and I’ve just got to do the hair and detail the coat a bit. I spoke with John (Clay) yesterday, and he was almost in tears when I told him I had pretty much finished.”
Armstrong chose to do a Craig-themed carve, basing his work off a picture of a sheepherder he found from 1927.
All the carvers are looking forward to Saturday’s festivities, when they will finish up their carvings, compete in the lower-pressure quick carving contest, and enjoy a fun atmosphere.
“I can’t wait to meet everybody and talk,” Armstrong said. “I’m excited for the quick carve, having a beer, listening to music. Craig has been a great community to me so far.”
Nate Waggenspack can be reached at 970-875-1795 or firstname.lastname@example.org