Whittling group looks forward to 40th Annual Artistry in Wood competition

There’s a certain satisfaction in carving down a hunk of wood into a caricature, a lifelike animal, a hobbit house or even the head of a former U.S. president.

“You remove everything that doesn’t belong,” Pete Wardrop said, repeating the old woodcarvers joke.

He’s a member of Whittle a While, a group that meets up to work on wood carvings together throughout Bucks County, and regular at the Thursday meetups in the cafeteria at Bucks County Technical High School. Wardrop was one of six who braved the cold to show up at the Feb. 12 meetup.

The group sat around the tables, talking, laughing and working on their individual pieces for the Delaware Valley Woodcarvers 40th Annual Artistry in Wood Show and Competition, to be held in the same room on Feb. 27 and 28.

The show will feature hundreds of pieces done by artists from all over the Bucks County area. There will also be food, vendors, demos, prizes, raffles and a judged competition.

The hobby seems almost a lost art in a world where most consumers buy their furniture and home decor from large manufacturers, but for most whittlers, that’s not what it’s about.

“I retired so I was looking for something to do. This gave me a chance to get out and associate with other people,” Andy LaRue said. “You also get a sense of accomplishment, like you’re not washed up. If somebody gives you a compliment on your work, you feel good about it.”

LaRue was carving a woodblock into a scene of a donkey traveling beneath a small bridge, to be completed with stone walls and shingles. It’s his contribution to a cane that members of the Delaware Valley Wood Carvers are making. Over a dozen members are carving pieces for the collaboration. It will be raffled off during the showcase and funds will be donated to Freedom Steps, a 5K walk/run in tribute to members of the U.S. armed forces.

Rick Rooks, a new member from Levittown, worked on his block from across the table. He’s still honing his skills, but even as a novice, he already understands what draws people in.

“It’s a stress-reliever for me,” he said. “I’m trained as an accountant, and that’s a perpetual machine, like the hamster and the wheel. With this, I actually get to see something I create.”

Maxine Ernest, a preschool teacher from Bensalem, shared similar sentiments.

“After a long day of dealing with preschoolers, I’ll come home and attack defenseless pieces of wood,” she joked.

In 2009, she won best of class in the competition for carving a full chess set, an accomplishment many fellow whittlers never thought she’d complete.

“Nobody ever finishes something like that,” she said. “I did it just to prove them wrong.”

While some in this group might just be scratching the surface of their talents, entries in the competition range from beginner to expert.

In the past, carvers submitted realistic wildlife pieces, portraits of family members and famous people like President Ronald Reagan and Pope Francis, ornate caricatures, ornaments and much more.

“It’s neat to just take a hunk of wood and when you’re done you come out with something fun,” Ernest said.
The 40th Annual Artistry in Wood Show and Competition will take place at the cafeteria of the Bucks County Technical High School, 610 Wistar Road in Fairless Hills, on Feb. 27 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Feb. 28 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. For information, visit www.delvalwoodcarvers.com.

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