‘God-given talent’: First-time Whittle the Wood entrants make initial cuts alongside longtime competitors
If you can hear a cacophony of chainsaws buzzing in June in Moffat County, it can only mean the yearly Whittle the Wood Rendezvous is underway.
The 20th annual event began Wednesday, June 12 at Loudy-Simpson Park as a dozen woodcarvers made their selections of stumps to begin a four-day process of going from tree work of art.
Stump 1 — Nate Hall, 1st year
Stump 2 — Matt Ounsworth, 5th year
Stump 3 — Jim Valentine, 5th year
Stump 4 — Damon Gorecki, 7th year
Stump 5 — Justine Park, 2nd year
Stump 6 — Joe Srholez, 3rd year
Stump 7 — Chad Stratton, 14th year
Stump 8 — Bongo Love, 12th year
Stump 9 — Robert Lyon, 4th year
Stump 10 — Robert Waits, 15th year
Stump 11 — Fernando Dulnuan, 1st year
Stump 12 — Ken Braun, 7th year
While some contestants in the carving event have been coming to Craig more than a decade, this is the first time at the event for Nate Hall.
In fact, it’s his first carving competition ever.
Hall, who hails from Lincoln, Nebraska, spent 20 years in advertising and was working with wood as a hobby before his commissions began piling up.
“I had enough of this work to do, that about a year ago my wife said, ‘you know, if you want to do this all the time, you should,'” he said. “So I said, ‘let’s do it.'”
Hall said he first learned of Whittle the Wood online last year and submitted his application to compete earlier this year.
While some competitors have kept their stump in one piece and vertical, Hall’s technique has been to work smaller, with the goal of crafting a scene of two rams butting heads.
“I cut away a lot that I didn’t need, and I did break a horn, so I’m going to need to fix that,” he said.
He added that the Craig community and Whittle the Wood staff have been helpful and encouraging.
“Everybody’s been super-hospitable,” he said.
Wednesday, June 12
9 a.m. Stump selection and carving until dusk
Thursday, June 13
9 a.m. Carving until dusk
Friday, June 14
9 a.m. Carving until dusk
4:30 p.m. Live music by Black Mountain Riot
5:30 p.m. Bear River Young Life Barbecue and Classic Car Cruise at Yampa Valley Bank
6:30 p.m. Live music by The Movers & Shakers
Saturday, June 15
8 a.m. Friends of Moffat County Education Wake the Whittler 5K and Family Fun Run
9 a.m. Carving
10 a.m. Beer garden, arts and crafts and food vendors
10 a.m. Shuttles begin
10 a.m. Bear River Young Life Classic Car Show in downtown Craig
1 p.m. Quick Carve Competition
1 to 4 p.m. Thunder Rolls Cornhole Tournament
3 p.m. Live music by Tylor & The Train Robbers
3 p.m. Carving competition judging
5 p.m. Carving competition winners announced
5:30 p.m. Live music by Leftover Salmon
8 p.m. Last shuttle
— All events at Loudy-Simpson Park unless otherwise noted. Admission free Friday. Saturday tickets $5 in advance, $10 at the gate for adults. Free to ages 12 and younger. For more information, visit whittlethewood.com.
Hall is one of two WTW novices this year, the other being Fernando Dulnuan.
Originally from the Philippines, Dulnuan comes to Craig from Norman, Oklahoma with six years of carving experience.
“Three years part-time, three years full-time,” he said. “I’m trying to learn some more about carving. You can see a lot more styles of carving at these things, new tools you can see.”
Dulnuan’s piece is already taking the shape in the form of an angel standing above a lion and lamb, serving as a testimony to his faith.
“Honestly, this is a God-given talent for me, so hopefully this is the purpose God wants for me. Without that, I’m useless,” he said.
He added that the variety the job offers is what has kept him going.
“I can’t stay in one job for a long time, but with this, every carving’s different, so you grow,” he said. “Not a lot of money here, but I like what I do and you’re on your own time and you’re proving yourself.”
Among the rest of the field of competitors, whose time at the festival ranges from year two to year 15, Salt Lake City’s Jim Valentine is about in the middle, now in his fifth year.
Valentine’s entry this year is a cowboy, which he credits to a recent class he took on crafting Western figures with smaller hand tools.
Though he didn’t have the concept in mind headed into the competition, he caught a break during the Wednesday morning drawing for stumps, which used playing cards.
“I got lucky, I got the ace, so I got the first pick,” he said.
After a full first day of working on the piece, he was more than happy to step away Wednesday afternoon.
“I always love coming up here. It’s always a good time. Except for all the hard work,” he chuckled.