Are You Cut Out for Woodcarving?

My Upcoming Class at the Metuchen Senior Center: May 7

The Metuchen Arts Council (which you can find on Facebook) has begun a series of art classes called the Metuchen Arts Exchange, in conjunction with the Westerhoff School and the Senior Center, and I’ll teach an introductory class on woodcarving. I’m pretty sure that I suggested the title of this blog as the title of the class, but they weren’t buying it. The class is an overview of knife safety, basic cuts, how grain works, and the differences between woods. Participants get to take home a wall-mountable key holder, which is useful and thus partially justifies the purchase of dangerous art supplies.

Imagine this with cup hooks in each little hole. Imagine my coffee table without the cat hair and dust. Thank you. Once again, I’ve photographed a workpiece on a table made of THE SAME WOOD! And I didn’t even plan that.

I’ll bring band-aids.

The hardest thing for people learning to carve is how much work it is for their hands. Most of us don’t do manual labor that requires small-motor strength. But if you like the hobby, the strength comes with time. And if you don’t like it after this class, you can learn that for $25 and quit while you’re ahead. That’s why the class is for adults; it’s not that kids are too careless to use knives, it’s just that they don’t have the size and strength they will have later.

The MAX classes are varied; they include everything except classic 2-D art or traditional music lessons. The goal here is to offer experiences in less-known arts. Right now, the Metuchen Arts Council website is down, but once it’s back I’ll post the link. Check them out on Facebook to see what’s up.

Timing is Everything

I was working on two pieces, from chunks of the same tree, when I found out that there will be an exhibit in which I can enter them. No guarantee that my work will be accepted, but I like the show’s concept either way. South Avenue Arts of Garwood ( (and that’s GarWOOD, not Garfield; I know this is confusing) has called for works about animals, and the show will benefit a shelter or animal welfare group. How perfect is that for a person who happened to be carving these:

Hey, haven’t I seen you somewhere before? Like, maybe on a curb?

Okay, the pieces in question do not represent normal shelter pets. But the wood wasn’t kitten-shaped. It’s salvage from a huge Halisia montecola that was taken down in Mount Holly. Halisia montecola is a variant of Halisia virginiana; some say they’re the same thing, but montecola grows about 60 feet tall, not 20, and I’d agree that it’s a significant difference. They grow along the warmer Appalachians, but they can live here as specimens. This one would have been planted around 1860.

The chunks were pretty random, cut with a chain saw and left behind. The wood is not very hard, but it’s stringy and fibrous, and this tree was spalted (aka half rotten) so it doesn’t offer a fine finish but I think they will work out well, with its marbled pattern. Hey… the table in the picture is from the same tree!

I’m also interested in a call for public art, and I’ve mocked something up:

My homage to Space Invaders… no, not really.

I’ll be busy with these through March. But you should be hearing from me before then about my carving class in Metuchen in May!

Eat, Drink, Buy Art 2019

December 7-8, Old Franklin Schoolhouse

Transformations Gallery is hosting it’s second Eat, Drink & Buy Art (EDBA) in the Old Franklin Schoolhouse, on Saturday, December 7 from 5:30-9:30 pm, and Sunday, December 8 from 11 am- 4 pm. If you’re headed for the Holiday House Tour, you’ll see the artists when you pick up your ticket.

I’ll be showing new and old work for the season: 

Holly Leaf Boxes made of holly wood, cut in … Mount Holly!
Fireplace Bellows
Finished Just In Time, Menorahs!

You’ll also see fiber arts, pottery, photography, glass, paintings, and soap, so stop by.

Tiny Art

Opening Friday, November 15th

I just got good News! My work has been accepted by South Avenue Arts for their Tiny Art Show. The concept… tininess. There will be flat and sculptural art, none of it bigger than 11×14”. I’ll be at the opening this Friday, November 15th from 7 – 9 pm. South Avenue Arts is a studio, classroom, and gallery space tucked into a light-industrial neighborhood in the Borough of Garwood, which I have to admit that I didn’t know existed until last year. It’s not far from home.  Check them out:

I’ll be showing one piece: Todd. Todd’s been in a box for safekeeping for a while, so he needs an airing. He’s carved from a block of mahogany that I bought from the old Martin Guitar factory in Nazareth, PA. This is the mahogany that they used for necks, heads and internal blocking, plus any forms and jigs they built. I suppose the shop in town has been long since repurposed, but at one time Martin sold cutoffs and imperfect instrument tops, back when America was fascinated by unfinished furniture, home renovation, and dulcimer kits. I think that moment has passed. The visitor center will now sell you a tee-shirt or a mug.

The wood was tight and smooth and easy to work. I had no band saw at the time, and used a handsaw and some indestructible Sears chisels that are guaranteed for life. The design doesn’t really allow for much fancy saw work; it’s simple lines and tight composition. Then I hollowed the interior spaces with a Dremel sandpaper grinder. What a bore that was. But ultimately, I worked with edge tools.

I worked rom a live model. Then I kept the drawings. Why? Why not.

I guess I took pictures of everything at the time, so you can see before and after. The photos in progress looked washed-out, and the finished color is the natural one. You can see how much easier it got for me to take a decent picture with the advent of foolproof digital technology.

Come and see Todd and whatever else will be there at South Avenue this Friday!

Getting Ready to Eat, Drink, and Show Art

The Fine Arts Fair at St. Luke’s Church during the Gallery Walk was great. Now I’m looking forward to the return of Eat, Drink, & Buy Art, alias EDBA, at the Old Franklin Schoolhouse. It will be a two-day even, on Saturday, December 7 from 5:30-9:30 pm and Sunday, December 8 from 11 am- 4 pm. Sunday is also the day of the Holiday House Tour, back by popular demand.

Only 6 weeks to get ready.

I’ll be showing some new items this year: some menorahs powered by tea lights. Yes, tea lights. No more scraping wax off the menorah.

Holly leaves cut from a holly tree that fell in … drumroll please… Mount Holly.

I’ll bring back the holly boxes along with some new items that I’ll post as they’re ready.

So, stop by and see great artisans and their work in Metuchen in December!

Fine Arts Fair, 10/13

I’ll be showing at Metuchen Art Council’s Fine Arts Fair during the Gallery Walk this Sunday, October 13th!

You can tour 5 galleries in Metuchen, and visit 16 artists in St. Luke’s Fryer Hall from 2-6 pm.

Basswood (linden0 menorah lit by tea lights: easy and clean.

I wanted to make menorahs out of wood, but wood is… flammable. After a little searching, I found the answer: tea lights!

I’ll be showing this piece and many others in Metuchen on Sunday, so stop by, say hi, get dinner or a cocktail in town, and see five – count ’em, five – galleries all within easy walking distance of downtown.

I can customize a menorah for you. Ask me about it.

Just Don’t Eat It…

This is Taxus brevifolia, the American or Pacific or Western yew, allegedly one of the most toxic plants in North America. But only if you eat it. There’s some concern that it can cause heart attacks in those who work with it, or handle it, or look at it disrespectfully. The biggest danger is to livestock and dogs. Dogs will try to eat anything. Mike helped me out by cutting this one to the ground. Poison or not, I’ve had it with the scrappy-looking thing.

I’ve worked with yew, and did not experience shortness of breath, irritation, staggering, weakness, coldness – well, I frequently experience coldness – or collapse. I experienced annoyance because it’s stringy and sappy. But that yew was brown and yellow, and this is a startling red! It’s too small to allow me to do much with it, but maybe I’ll let it sit around being poisonous in the basement, and make something out of it someday. I’m betting that the red fades to brown.

Ouroboros eating it’s own toxic tail.

My parents had two upright yews growing by their house and cut them down to keep the cat from getting herself stuck on the roof. Here’s what I did to one of them. That’s a staff about 6 feet tall. The difference between mature and new wood is clear, and there’s a nice streak of blue running up one side. I guess each one is toxic in its own special way.

This blog made me think of something else I made: a spatula. I’ve been stirring my food with North America’s most toxic wood for 20 years. Hmm.

††There is debate in the botanical community; is Taxus brevifolia getting a bad rap? European and Japanese yews are full of a cardiotoxic alkaloidal fraction called ‘taxine’, but here in the U.S., moose and deer eat the native yew, and they don’t stagger and faint. Brevifolia is different than baccata and cuspidata.

The whole east coast is landscaped in this stuff and everyone says, anecdotally, that children die when they eat the berries. But when’s the last time you heard of a child dying of berries? This sounds like the story of how your uncle knows a man who’s wife has a cousin who ate poisoned Hallowe’en candy.

Taxol, the drug made from brevifolia, is another story. It’s alleged to be toxic because the yew element is carried by polyethoxylated castor oil, and everyone knows that castor bean plants are toxic. Everyone except my parent’s landscaper who says they grew near his house when he was a kid and he and his friends all played with the leaves, and didn’t stagger and wheeze.

So for now, I’ll keep the yew. I just won’t eat it. I’ll use the spatula to stir the nightshade salad.