Carving allows creativity in wood

BLUE EARTH – When you attend a local art show, note closely the different works. Often they will reflect the unique personalities of their creators. Such as at the Woodcarvers and Quilt Expo in Blue Earth over the weekend.

Bruce Ankeny is an easygoing guy from Blue Earth. His Santa Claus figures used to be popular and he sold 65 a year; now he sells maybe a dozen. He says he feels a little burnt out with carving and wants to take it easy.

So now he’s working on a Civil War project, an army of Confederate and Union soldiers. The process has been slow, as he began when the 150th anniversary took place in 2011. But he’s having fun.

As back in the ’70s, when Ankeny first started carving, he’s stuck mainly to caricatures, animals with human teeth. He pointed out a couple of gizzardless birds he’d done.

“Carving is more of a hobby and it’s nice to give my creations to people I know will appreciate,” he said.

Just because he’s taking it easy doesn’t mean he’s inactive. Every year around Thanksgiving when Bucs Night Out rolls around, Ankeny gives his carvings away to help raise money for the school foundation. This year, the figure is Santa’s face tucked away in a birch log in a collection Ankeny has called the Tree People.

He also has a goofy Green Giant, reminiscent of the statue in Blue Earth, planted in the middle of his Tree People. Last year, Ankeny took part in the Green Giant Award competition. It is given to businesses with the best curb appeal, but Ankeny received none of the three awards he applied for. He took it into his own hands, literally.

“I carved myself one,” Ankeny chuckled.

Tom Childs, from Fairmont, was relaxing at a table next door to Ankeny. Childs had his own set of Santas. One thin Santa had his arms stretched out to the consumers, as though crying, “Take me, pick me!” Childs called the work “Hug Me Jesus.” When he first started the work, the Santa was a 3-inch tall piece of wood, but the more Childs whittled away, the more the form took the shape of a cross.

Childs has learned some of his woodcarving from Ankeny, but has adapted his own style. While Ankeny’s figures’ eyes veer off to the side, Childs ensures his figures’ eyes look straight at you. A method he uses called antiquing provides more depth to the faces he carves.

He also has a partiality to a specific part.

“I like doing beards,” he smiled. “I enjoy carving the beards because that’s what I see in the mirror every day.”

On a more serious note, Childs served in Vietnam. Forty-four years later, he finally got in contact with a couple buddies he served alongside. He had trouble finding one because he couldn’t remember the last name and remembered the nickname, Spoon. Within the last couple of years, he finally uncovered his buddy over the Internet when he stumbled across the last name. Soon after that reunion, Childs and Spoon – Noel Hissong – discovered the third buddy, Ralph Marinoff. Childs designed bottle stops for his friends, a squinting Vietnam War veteran with the symbol of the Marine Corps on the side of the hat.

Childs has carved other bottle stoppers. He recalls one woman who came in and bought 10 for a wine region in Washington state. Her daughter served as a waitress in the area the woman visited, and the woman thought she could hawk the bottle stoppers. While Childs duplicated more Vietnam veteran figures, he also has created more fish, stars and Santas. However, he prefers the human form.

“Woodcarving keeps me sober and sane,” he said.