Water, fire, love, loss — Whittle the Wood carvers have myriad motivations
19th annual Whittle the Wood Rendezvous carvings• Stump 1, Robert Lyon — "Wild Harmony," Forest animals• Stump 2, Bongo Love — "Motherly Love," Giraffes; 2nd place• Stump 3, Joe Srholez — "Phoenix Rising," Mythical phoenix; 3rd place• Stump 4, Matt Ounsworth — "True Story," Fisherman and fish• Stump 5, Justine Park — "Be Like Nathalie," Feathers and mushrooms• Stump 6, Chad Stratton — "Honey Hole," Fish habitat• Stump 7, Doug Moreland — "Wooden Nickel," Native American with buffalo nickel• Stump 8, Ken Braun — "Davy Jones," Davy Jones from "Pirates of the Caribbean"; 1st place, Artists' Choice, People's Choice• Stump 9, Joe Wenal — "Singin' in the Rain," Gene Kelly from "Singin' in the Rain"• Stump 10, Damon Gorecki — "Freedom," Eagle bench• Stump 11, Jim Valentine — "Under the Sea," Marine life
A small wave of wet weather that closed the day Saturday was a fitting end to the 19th annual Whittle the Wood Rendezvous given the art on display that embraced the theme of water.
In addition to many other topics.
After four days of trimming tree trunks into whole new forms at Loudy-Simpson Park, carvers learned who would take the top honors in Craig’s summertime celebration as organizers handed out the big awards.
The winning piece garnered a trifecta — Montrose’s Ken Braun picked up the $1,000 grand prize, as well as People’s Choice and Artists’ Choice for his wooden recreation of Davy Jones, the tragic villain of “Pirates of the Caribbean.”
In his sixth year competing at the Rendezvous, Braun said he had only picked the sea monster subject — a mixture of tentacles and crustacean features on a buccaneer body — the night before starting work.
“I was in the hotel and just started looking at some pictures and finally decided on it,” he said. “He’s one of my favorite characters, and I’ve always wanted to do something like that.”
Runner-up and $750 went to event regular Bongo Love for a mother and baby giraffe named “Motherly Love,” a carving that featured many subtleties in its shape, with the shape of the two animals’ heads and necks forming a heart.
Love originally from Zimbabwe, said he has a fondness for carving African animals to reconnect to his homeland. Still, visiting Craig from the Front Range each summer is a highlight of his year.
“This is why I started carving wood. It’s a pleasure for me to come here,” he said. “Thank you people for your love.”
Second-year competitor Joe Srholez, of Gypsum, placed third and earned $500 for “Phoenix Rising” for the mythical firebird. In creating the work, Srholez said he had his mind on people across the state affected by wildfires.
“There’s a lot of people struggling out there, so it’s a symbol of rebirth,” he said.
Of the 11 carvings, five were connected to water, whether it was Braun’s nautical character or Joe Wenal’s likeness of Gene Kelly in “Singin’ in the Rain” complete with trenchcoat and umbrella on a lamppost.
Jim Valentine’s “Under the Sea” was a saltwater submergence featuring turtles, shark, seahorse, starfish, eel, tropical fish, sea anemone and seaweed.
A pair of freshwater features were all about angling. Chad Stratton’s “Honey Hole” showed trout hiding out in the perfect fishing hole amid reeds, cattails and a large sunflower. Alternately, Matt Ounsworth’s “True Story” showed two separate portions with a fisherman in waders and a leaping cod.
Doug Moreland carved a Native American figure he called “Wooden Nickel” with a buffalo head coin at the base.
“I figure if someone puts this at their store, no one’s gonna take it, because everyone knows you don’t take no wooden nickels,” Moreland laughed.
Elsewhere, Robert Lyon stuck to the forest for inspiration with “Wild Harmony,” a collection of critters sharing a tree, including owls, fox, raccoon and a badger, while Damon Gorecki completed a bench with a pair of eagles, named “Freedom.”
First-year competitor Justine Park carved two large, upright feathers, which also included several mushrooms in the design of “Be Like Nathalie,” dedicated to a young friend who passed away only two months earlier.
Nathalie’s birthday would have been June 18.
“She was only 21 and had a heart condition no one knew about, so it’s been a pretty sad time,” Park said. “She loved feathers and she had such a wonderful spirit, so this is my piece for her.”
After four days of competition at Whittle the Wood Rendezvous, Lincoln, Nebraska’s Nate Hall can count himself a seasoned competitor in one of Northwest Colorado’s premier events as he embarks on an ongoing career in the field of wood sculpture.