Arts and Entertainment

Kitsap County Woodcarvers make art and make merry

Kitsap woodcarver Gene Gregory gouges into shape a priest bowl, also known as a canoe bowl. - Jennifer Morris/Staff Photo
Kitsap woodcarver Gene Gregory gouges into shape a priest bowl, also known as a canoe bowl.
— image credit: Jennifer Morris/Staff Photo

Ask the three men about the tools at the table, and they’ll walk you through rows of wood-handled knives and gouges, some of them homemade. Ask them their ages, and they’ll tell you with impish grins: “old as dirt.”

The septuagenarians, seated at a table in the Port Orchard Givens Center since morning, have just finished lunch — a brief break in a day of carving for a few members of the Kitsap County Woodcarvers.

“I always have to do something with my hands if I’m not talking,” said Ralph Buffington, 78, while wildly waving his arms. He’s gouging details into a continuous rope design on a palm-sized piece of wood.

The subgroup is meeting for a social carving session, or “spit and whittle,” as the club calls it. They meet officially the first Saturday of each month. Founded in 1973, the club’s 80 members are both young and old, male and female and come from all over Kitsap.

Clark Maddox, 71, picked up woodcarving 15 years ago. He is carving to life a sea captain; the billowing folds of his coat and the wrinkles around his eyes bring movement to the still figure. The more detail, Maddox said, the better.

“I think most woodcarvers find it therapeutic,” he added. “There’s something about the feel of the wood under the tool, and to see something come out of a piece of wood.”

Buffington said the hobby keeps his mind sharp and arthritis at bay.

Gene Gregory, 72, is a retired machinist. A man who likes to work with his hands, he eyed woodcarving as a hobby for years while raising a family and working. Finally, five years ago, he had the time to start. Since, he’s found totem poles, canoe bowls and all sorts of other shapes in the wood he carves, like a sculptor finds a statue from a slab of stone.

He enjoys the humor in the activity, recalling a caricature he once carved that made him laugh out loud as he whittled its features into clarity.

He said fellow club members have astonished him with their creations. One woman, with a penchant for carving from found wood, brought in a large, dirty root she’d come across, and transformed it into an eagle.

“I think anyone could do it if they wanted to,” he said.

The men sit around talking, carving, like a trio of barbershop pals. Maddox guesses he’s chiseled at least 100 different faces, each with different details, different characteristics. He sometimes teaches classes during the club’s Saturday meetings, a time when members gather, carve together and learn from one another.

“I always wanted to try woodcarving, but I had no idea how,” he recalled. “If you belong to a club or can learn from other carvers, it probably triples your learning curve.”

The Kitsap County Woodcarvers hold an to display their work and work submitted by others. This year, the 24th annual show will run March 13-14 at the West Side Improvement Club in Bremerton. The event is free.

To learn more about the Kitsap County Woodcarvers, visit a monthly meeting at 10 a.m. the first Saturday of the month at the Active Club Recreation Building in Port Orchard. The club holds demonstrations and classes for those 8 years old and older. Annual memberships are $12 for an individual or family, $4 for anyone under 16. For more information, call club president and third generation wood worker Jeff Iller at (360) 698-7175.

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