Whittle the Wood wows for 18 years and counting
The traditional anniversary gift for 18 years is porcelain, but those who organize and attend Whittle the Wood Rendezvous prefer an entirely different material.
The yearly festival celebrating chainsaw carvings, music and more concluded Saturday at Loudy-Simpson Park as those from Craig and beyond came out of the woodwork.
Those who turned out for creative wooden works weren’t disappointed by the finalized, painted and primed entries, which ranged from nature scenes like Jim Valentine’s “Gone Fishing” — an eagle on the move toward a tasty trout — to the cartoonish, such as Chad Stratton’s “Flying Ace,” with “Peanuts” characters Snoopy and Woodstock flying the Sopwith Camel-doghouse combination complete with bullet holes from the Red Baron.
Stump 1 — Ken Braun, “Caesar” — Chimpanzee from “Planet of the Apes”
Stump 2 — Bongo Love, “Protective Spirit” — African river god and giraffe
Stump 3 — Matt Ounsworth, “Kindred Spirits” — Animal totem
Stump 4 — Joe Srholez, “Temptation” — Snake and apple
Stump 5 — Joe Wenal, “Lunch” — Lizard eating a fly
Stump 6 — Robert Lyon, “The Big Fish” — Animal totem
Stump 7 — Damon Gorecki, “From Within” — Bench with Native American faces
Stump 8 — Chad Stratton, “Flying Ace” — Snoopy and Woodstock in doghouse airplane
Stump 9 — Jim Valentine, “Gone Fishing” — Soaring eagle swooping down on fish
Stump 10 — Doug Moreland, “Buffalo Bill” — “Buffalo” Bill Cody
Stump 11 — Robert Waits, “Looking Foxy” — Foxes and bluebirds
A carving of revolutionary chimpanzee Caesar from “Planet of the Apes” placed third, and Montrose’s Ken Braun chanted the character’s name as he accepted his $500 prize.
Taking second place and $750 for the vulpine “Looking Foxy,” Robert Waits, of Diamond Springs, California, thanked Craig for the chance to compete again. Doug Moreland of Manchaca, Texas, similarly thanked the community as he accepted a new award, selected by City Manager Mike Foreman for Moreland’s Western carving “Buffalo Bill.”
Foreman said he requested the chance to pick one of the carvings as a result of being so impressed with his first year at the event.
“It’s great to be able to show off Craig and Moffat County and be able to introduce some people to it,” he said.
Winning the grand prize was Fort Collins’ Matt Ounsworth, taking not only first place and the $1,000 check that came with it but also People’s Choice and Artist’s Choice.
Dave Pike, Whittle organizer, said he somewhat prefers when carvers take multiple honors.
“It indicates the judges are right on,” Pike said, noting that a sweep reflects that artistic tastes are similar between spectators, competitors and the judging panel.
Ounsworth’s “Kindred Spirits” depicts multiple woodland creatures sharing a large tree, including an eagle, a bear, a mountain lion, a pair of owls and a small den of wolves. The third-year carver attributed it to his love of nature.
“They’re all Colorado animals. Well, sort of — except the wolves,” he laughed.
Colorado pride was prevalent in many elements, including the music of the day, including Craig’s Four 2 Play as openers, followed by Colorado Springs’ Jeffrey Alan Band, who also headlined at JW Snack’s Bar and Grill for multiple weekend shows.
Headlining were The Samples, a band that has its roots in formation in Boulder, jamming for an eager Craig crowd with founder Sean Kelly at the forefront.
Pike estimated about 2,000 people were in the park for the final concert with hundreds more in attendance at Loudy-Simpson throughout the week.
Among them was Denise Morchak, memorializing her late husband, Chris, who passed away earlier this month.
The Rendezvous was one of their most cherished activities together.
“This was our life,” Denise said. “We must have come to 15 of these things.”
Denise added that she’s bought many gifts and other items at Whittle the Wood.
Brisk business is always a goal for food and craft vendors and the carvers who bring their inventory, though money remains a big issue for the Rendezvous itself.
A $5 Saturday admission fee initiated last year has done little to make a dent in the costs, and the festival was among the potential services to be axed from the City of Craig budget for the 2018-19 year.
No final decision has been made as departments prepare numbers for presentation to City Council in August, Foreman said.
“We’re still looking for community support, more sponsorships, things like that,” he said. “There’s a lot of ways to be able to make it happen.”
For Pike, who has been with the event from the beginning, losing it as a tent pole for Craig’s summer calendar would be an especially big blow, one which he too is hoping to avoid with increased sponsorship.
“I would hate to lose Whittle the Wood,” Pike said. “It’s a community favorite, and we need to do our best to keep it alive.”