Museum of Northwest Colorado: The history of Whittle the Wood

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Whittle the Wood, now in its 15th year as Craig’s premier summer event, was initiated in 1999 by Craig Parks and Recreation Director Dave Pike. Seeing City Park’s stately cottonwood trees succumbing to disease and old age, Pike hated to cut down the deteriorating trees entirely so instead decided to “make some lemonade out of lemons.” He left stumps from the removed trees and invited local artists to decorate them with carvings. So began the carving contest that entices wood carvers of all abilities and from all over the world to visit Craig and leave behind a memorable piece of art for the community to enjoy. A person would have to be totally oblivious to not be aware that the Whittle the Wood Rendezvous is taking place again this weekend at Loudy-Simpson Park south of town.

A local wood carver, who lived here in from 1954 until his death in the 1980s, would have thoroughly enjoyed seeing the Whittle the Wood event, and maybe even taken part in it. Italian born Luigi Valieri was a familiar sight around Craig in the 1960s and '70s as he scavenged aluminum cans to subsidize his meager income. He is best remembered however, for his small rock and woodcarvings, which took many forms from realistic to whimsical. Luigi immigrated to the United States in 1922, an event he claimed was the happiest of his life. He worked in steel mills and was a bricklayer before coming to work at Mt. Harris coal mine in 1932. When the mine closed in 1954, he moved to Craig where he lived until his death. Generous with his carvings, Luigi gave almost all of them away.

In later years, when Luigi was in need of money, local attorney James Pughe (son of George Pughe) gathered the carvings, which Luigi had wanted to throw away, and held a fundraiser for the sculptor. Luigi died in the 1980s, leaving behind many friends and countless small sculptures crafted by his talented hands and imaginative mind.

The Museum of Northwest Colorado would love to document any of the remaining sculptures that were created by Luigi. If you know of one, the staff at the museum would love to hear from you. Call 970-824-6360 or come by the museum located at 590 Yampa Ave. in downtown Craig. Meanwhile, be sure to enjoy the festivities this weekend out at Loudy-Simpson Park and if you seen Dave Pike, thank him for the classy and enjoyable event that he created from some dying trees in a small town park.

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