Carving a special niche

The Smoky Hollow Carvers, a group of woodcarving enthusiasts, take pride in their challenging craft and the fact they are keeping alive a tradition that goes back to the Middle Ages.

The group has about 35 members who vary from beginner to advanced levels. Chapter No. 45 meets from 1 to 4 p.m. every Wednesday at the Stough Canyon Nature Center in Burbank and from 9 a.m. to noon every Saturday at Crescenta Valley Park in the main building at the corner of Dunsmore and Honolulu avenues.

Members say meetings are very informal, and there are no membership dues. It's a chance to share what projects they are working on and to give each other tips on tried and true techniques.

It's also a great bonding experience with members tossing jokes back and forth and offering their opinions on current events, they say.

President George Smith of Sunland has been carving for 15 years. He is retired from Lockheed Aircraft where he worked in computing, assisting the engineers who were designing the planes, he said.

His subjects are often people.

"Human faces are pretty much of a challenge," he said. "I'm working on a bust of my grandson. He lives in New Hampshire, but we've got some pretty good pictures of him."

Smith also does a fair amount of relief carving, or carving pictures, like landscapes and scenery onto a flat piece of wood.

"I've done Western ranch scenes and horses," he said, adding he uses gouging tools and when the wood piece is complete, he gives it a clear finish.

Vice President Ray Landry has been woodcarving for 20 years. He picked up the hobby after his retirement from the city of Los Angeles where he was a supervising carpenter.

The 86-year-old Glendale resident attends Chapter No. 45 meetings each Saturday at Crescenta Valley Park.

His favorite subjects to carve are famous people and bears, he said. He's carved U.S. presidents Lincoln, Obama, Clinton and Reagan and is now working on an Indian trader modeled after a famous piece carved by 19th century American sculptor William Rush.

Landry's fascination with bears came from hunting them when he was growing up in Berlin, N.H., he said. He's even created a technique using a nail on a spinning drill that gives the appearance of hair on his bears and passed it along to fellow carvers.

"I saw another guy using the technique and I figured out how to do it," he said. "Carving hair onto a piece of wood takes a long time with a knife, but with the spinning nail, it takes three or four hours. You've got the four legs, belly, inside the legs, tail, head and ears and you have to be careful not to damage it."

He makes the bear's claws out of deer horns.

He likes the camaraderie he finds as a member of the woodcarvers, he said.

"We have a lot of fun. We talk about all kinds of stuff, except girls," he said.

Burbank resident Mike McHorney attends the meetings at the nature center in Burbank where he works as recreation leader.

He brings with him a pack of about 25 tools. A set like that costs about $120, he said.

His subjects are mostly birds. He'd put about 12 hours into a roadrunner.

"You have to do all the little feathers," he said.

Another Burbank resident, Stan Lynch said he likes making bears and Santa Claus, and recently started carving golf balls. The balls are cut in half and a face is carved from the spongy core. At a recent meeting, however, Lynch was making a "roly poly" bug for his 4-year-old granddaughter.

"I can't wait to see him do all the legs," McHorney quipped.

When he's carving at home, Lynch said he sits in the front yard.

"My granddaughter throws the wood shavings into the flower garden," he said. "It's great mulch."

Jacqueline Tobin, the lone female among the handful of male carvers at the meeting, likes woodcarving because she can make gifts for family and friends, she said.

Once she made a Nativity scene with Mary, Joseph, the baby Jesus and all the animals, the Burbank resident said. It took, on and off, about a year.

"I love the creativity of it and doing something that's a lost art," she said.

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