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SHERIDAN — Most people look at a chunk of wood and see…a chunk of wood.
But members of Wood Carvers of the Big Horns look at a chunk of wood and see ducks, Santas, ballet dancers, walking sticks, whimsical houses, fish swimming upriver, Western caricatures of cowboys riding horses backwards and much more.
Wood carvers see worlds of creativity in the wood so many people overlook.
There is a joke amongst wood carvers that to become a wood carver you simply take a piece of wood and take off everything that doesn’t look like Santa, club member Rick Dowdy said. But really, there’s more to it than that, and that is why Wood Carvers of the Big Horns has met twice a month for nearly 15 years.
At 9 a.m. on the first and third Saturdays of each month, 10 to 20 carvers gather at the Sheridan Senior Center to share wood carving tips and tricks and work together on projects.
“It keeps me inspired,” Dowdy said. “It’s hard to come here and see all this good work and not be inspired to sharpen your tools and carve.”
The group was started by Sheridan High School Principal Dirlene Wheeler after she moved to Sheridan in 1997. Wheeler had started carving wood in 1993 at a club in North Platte, Neb., and she missed her wood carving buddies, she said. She began teaching wood carving classes around the Sheridan region and eventually started the club in 1999.
“A friend tells a friend, and the friend comes and falls in love with wood carving,” Wheeler said about how the club has grown over the years.
Wood carving charms carvers with its creativity, its challenge and its long history.
Club member Tom Lawson carves intricate wooden cages with wooden balls inside and other similar puzzling designs. He became enamored with that style of wood carving after spending time in Wales.
Lawson said the story behind Welsh wood carving is that when a boy courted a girl, he would make a “love spoon,” or intricate wood carving, and give it to the girl’s father. The father would use the carving to determine if the boy was able to provide for his daughter using his hands.
Longtime member Roger Haight joined the club 10 years ago when he was getting ready to retire.
“I thought I needed a hobby, so I started carving wood,” Haight said.
Haight specializes in fish but has carved everything from flowers to Western caricatures out of everything from bone to PVC pipe, which is also known as Wyoming ivory. He carves something every day.
“It’s very creative. It’s always a challenge,” Haight said.
Mel Quick has carved 125 diamond wood canes, each unique.
Sandy Eisenman can’t carve a straight line, and that has become the cornerstone of her style that has produced dancing Santas and whimsical houses without one straight line that look like they belong in a fairy tale.
“Carve what you know, and carve what you like,” Wheeler said.
That’s what members of Wood Carvers of the Big Horns do. They take that chunk of wood and make it something magical, something more than meets the eye.
• Join Wood Carvers of the Big Horns at 9 a.m. on the first and third Saturdays of the month at the Sheridan Senior Center, 211 Smith St.