James Neill, woodcarver

plate 1. James Neill at work on Three Angels

Ozark Woodcarving

by Joshua Heston

Few things are emotionally warmer, or more connected to the elemental parts of our past, than the act of carving beautiful art from wood. From exquisitely carved mantels to “hillbilly” caricatures, wood carvings seem to evoke the spirit of these hills.

The Woodcarving section of StateoftheOzarks is devoted to celebrating this spirit.

Buffalo Bill, woodcarving

plate 2. Bill butterfield’s work Buffalo Bill. Silver Dollar City, April 18, 2008.

Human realistic style begins as a full-bark log that is then chainsawed down to a rough cut, then carved with great detail.

relief woodcarving

plate 3. Relief carving by Harley Schmitgen, Silver Dollar City, April 18, 2008.

Relief style, so-called as the medium is carved on the front only, is a form that allows for extraordinary detail. The piece above, by master carver Harley Schmitgen, is of a mountain man. Landscape pieces utilize relief carving methods as well.

Buffalo Bill, woodcarving

plate 4. Caricature carving by Harold Enlow of Harrison, Arkansas. Silver Dollar City, April 18, 2008.

There is something about caricature carving that seems truly unique to the Ozarks. As Shirley Garner of Valley Road Woodcarvers Shop notes, “Our caricature classes fill up faster than the others. I think it’s because you can be versatile and because the artists can put something of themselves into the work if they want to. It’s very popular in the Ozarks.”

Buffalo Bill, woodcarving

plate 5. Bark carving detail by Rick Jensen of Wisconsin. Silver Dollar City, April 18, 2008.

Bark carving traditionally uses cottonwood. Interestingly enough, the trees are not cut down. Rather, the thick bark is gathered and then carved. Popular designs range from mysterious spirit faces to whimsical “bark houses.” The results may be as plain or as elegant as the carver wishes.

Raccoon family, woodburning technique

plate 6. Woodburning detail by Barbara Smith. Silver Dollar City, April 18, 2008.

Woodburning is a beautiful art tradition closely dovetailed with woodcarving. The style indicated above, created by guest carver Barbara Smith, is regularly taught by Paula Bebout In addition to the woodburning itself, washes and finishes are often applied to the piece.

Raccoon family, woodburning technique

plate 7. European chip-carving detail by Pam Gresham, resident carver. This European chip carving example is an unfinished Bible box top. Gresham uses a special chip-carving knife she has made. Silver Dollar City, April 18, 2008.

The dominant form of chip carving is referred to as peasant style. Originally done by European peasants, the artform uses a single paring knife to create exquisitely intricate patterns in a variety of woods.

Animal Realistic carving

plate 7. Jim Willis’ squirrel balancing with an acorn in his mouth displays the intricacies of realistic carving. Silver Dollar City, April 18, 2008.

Realistic animal carving depends on power tools. The results are astounding. The work above is created by master carver, Jim Willis of Kansas City.

Many thanks to the Valley Road Woodcarvers Shop, Shirley Garner and Pam Gresham. Their assistance in developing this section of State of the Ozarks has been invaluable.

April 18, 2008

Ozark Woodcarving: State of the Ozarks

Photo credits: J. Heston.April 18, 2008.

dogwood petal Gaylen Montgomery, Scroll Saw

Scroll Saw Traditions

(Branson, MO) “Listen to the wood,” explained Gaylen Montgomery rapidly. “But keep the blade moving! The wood will tell you how fast to run. The saw is a very creative machine. You’re limited only by your imagination.”

Montgomery was busily instructing three new students — the last of the Christmas season — in his brightly lit “Mr. M’s Workshop” in the back of the Branson Mill craft mall.

“We vacationed here beginning in the mid-’80s,” says the Iowa native. “I got started because Jim Adam, the master scroll saw cutter at Silver Dollar City, took the time to teach.”

Adam’s instruction came at an opportune moment. Not long before, Montgomery had given up on mastering scroll sawing. “All I seemed to be able to do was break blades and burn wood!”

A new saw, regular hands-on teaching and lots of practice changed Montgomery into an accomplished craftsman.

Gaylen Montgomery, Scroll Saw

“My goal is to share hand skills,” concludes Montgomery, before turning back to his students, all tourists from Wisconsin. “When scroll sawing is done right, you won’t even need to sand. Too much is being done by computer. But when you take a piece of wood and end up with a work of art, that’s what I’m after.”

A retired school teacher, Montgomery still commutes from the Midwest with his wife Karen — a talented tole painter in her own right — and teaches introductory and advanced classes in the Branson Mill.

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