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.

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 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.

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.”

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.

Wood burning detail by Barbara Smith. Silver Dollar City, April 18, 2008.

Wood burning 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 wood burning itself, washes and finishes are often applied to the piece.

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.

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

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