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  North East Woodcarvers Roundup

by Mike Bloomquist


I found it! I found it! I found it! I knew I had notes from my first year at the NorthEast Woodcarvers Roundup, but what I found was even better.  I had actually written a fair portion of an article to inflict… I mean… to offer up to my readership, all three of you.  This was Harold and my (and Jack Miller’s, and Merrilee’s, and...) seventh year at the NEWR.  What follows is an account of the first year in much more vivid detail than I could conjure up now.  So please indulge a double dose of prolixity and join me as I remember when...
I used to be jealous, “but I’m much better now”.  Yes, I used to be jealous of you sculptors of wood out there who attended “rendezvous’” and “roundups” and “experiences” and “pigouts” seemingly at will, and, in some cases, several times a year.  As I read all the e-mail traffic that flies back and forth prior to and after each event, they all sounded fantastic and something to be a part of, but from Upstate New York they were always a bit out of reach for me geographically.  It's no longer an issue now thanks to the efforts of George & Anne Reinfried, and “Carvin' Jack” Miller.  Inspired by his attendance at the 2002 roundup in Evart, Michigan, George thought there was a place for a similar event in the Northeast.  He and Anne put out some proposals via e-mail, found a possible campsite to host it, and enlisted the aid of a veteran instructor from the Evart event, Jack Miller, to organize the volunteer instructors.  By all accounts, they hit this one out of the park.

When I got George's e-mail sometime in the fall of 2002 I immediately punched Rome, NY and Honesdale, Pa into MapQuest and came up with a one-way trip of 3 hours plus some change.  Translating that into a worst-case-scenario of back roads (nothing over 55mph) and my tired old Hyundai Excel filled with camping gear, carving equipment, my white board, and some bass wood blanks, the trip probably would be 4 hours plus some change... sign me up George!  As it turned out, I conned my carving buddy, Harold Kaltenbach, into going too.  This changed the vehicle into a full size, somewhat tired GMC truck and camper loaded with Harold’s stuff AND my tent, whiteboard... well you've already seen that list.  My plan had been to drive the Hyundai as well as Harold’s truck/camper, but Harold had a much more realistic opinion of my little red beast’s trip worthiness.  Yvonne's nickname for it is the “Little-Red-S**t-Box”, but this is a family E-zine so we won’t go there.  Poor Harold actually got shanghaied into going.  It wasn’t that he wasn’t interested, but I explained to him that he had to go because I had signed him up as an instructor.  At first Harold didn’t feel qualified to go as an instructor, but having seen him teach small groups at the Erie Canal Woodcarvers, I had no qualms about signing him up.  “Besides”, I explained, “all the instructors are volunteers so worst case scenario your students ask for a refund”.  My last point was something like “What's a friend for if he can't give you a shove from behind on occasion” said with a grin. 
Harold and I got to Honesdale a day before the official start. We took a leisurely two hours down Route 8, ate lunch at a greasy spoon in Hancock, NY, immediately crossed the Delaware River into Pennsylvania and arrived at Honesdale from the north at about 2pm heading out to Cherry Ridge Campgrounds.   Bear Swamp RoadGetting directions on the way out of Honesdale, it struck me as a good sign that those directions included a “Bear Swamp Road”.  We have similar names for roads in Upstate NY, but they’re usually something like “Hogs Back Road”, which very accurately describes how nasty the road surface is.  Maybe I was being naturally optimistic considering the activities for the following days, but you just have to be headed towards a good time on a road with a name like Bear Swamp. 
Almost immediately after arriving at Cherry Ridge we met George, Anne, & Jack.  They and a couple others had formed a happy looking group between trailers and were busy on carving projects.  Jack was plugged into the nearest power pole, happily grinding away at a piece of wood.  Now that’s a dedicated power carver, but there’s got to be one in every crowd I suppose.  Guess I really shouldn’t make fun of them power carvers just because I’m too lazy to unplug my trusty old Foredom and pack it.  I shouldn’t make fun of Jack anyway since he fixed Harold and me some wonderful “deluxe” pancakes Monday morning.  Anyway, in amongst that group there was a pleasant surprise… a student from one of my Rochester Woodspirit classes had made the trek.  Darn, I’m busted!  Now she’ll find out what real woodcarving instructors are like.  It got worse since a second of student from my Rochester class showed up as well.  Boy, this better be as good as I described it.
Cherry Ridge Campgrounds is a country music/country dancing themed campgrounds.  If you haven’t been there before it looks a little past its prime in certain areas, but anyone with a little history with the place knows that it’s actually on its way back after changing owners about 5 years ago.  It has the full spectrum of facilities from tent sites, to large trailer/RV sites to park homes, cabins, rooms and lodge accommodations.  The facilities include two large buildings, one with room for two squares (that’s square dancing squares for un-enlightened), and one with room for 3 squares plus a small kitchen and eating area.  Being Saturday night the country dancers were still with us, but come Sunday they would be replaced by woodcarvers at most of the sites and the squares would be filled with tables for woodcarving classes.  Saturday night was very peaceful, and I was glad Harold and I came early so we could meet George and Anne and Jackand a few others before the campsite filled Sunday and everything got into high gear… especially George and Ann.

We had Sunday for registration, then Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday for classes. Thursday was for saying goodbye and heading home.  You would think that, in that amount of time, one could get their fill of woodcarving and talking to folks about woodcarving.  Nope!  It flew by like no time at all.  I had promised myself to keep up in my journal so details would not be lost, but there was barely time for pictures, so you will have to forgive this poor reporter, and bear with some random mental images.  There was Mike Smith who carved spoons and confirmed the fact there are mountain men in the northeast.  Mike traded me a piece of red gum burl for some prime Montana cottonwood bark.  There was Merrilee the “hat lady”, who always seemed to sparkle and had her sister and mother there as a mobile support group.  While in my cottonwood bark woodspirit class, Tony Erikson doubled my knowledge of things Scandinavian.  There was Sandie from the Catskill Mountain Woodcarvers club.  She fixed a couple of awesome breakfasts in her Bounder for Harold and I, and kept me up to date on how Lance Armstrong was doing in “The Tour”.  Oh,  and boy can she carve too… there was evidence pulled out of every little cubbyhole in that RV.  It was quite a gallery.
Then there was Sally and David Nye.  Not long after the morning session of my first class, these small wooden fan birds started flying by the table.  By the morning session Tuesday there was a small flock of them.  What was really impressive about two or three of them is they were in the hands of non-carving spouses of woodcarvers I knew, and were closely followed by the words “see what I carved?” 


Now due to poor PR on my part… I only had two students in my Tuesday morning class for carving a kokopelli.  It was disappointing, but freed up the rest of the day for the teacher to play hooky.  Anyway, I wandered over to the other building where everyone was carving these fan birds, and there I met the Nyes.  It was a wonderful workshop where, not only could you carve a hummingbird, goose, or songbird variation of these critters, but you got to hear some of the first hand research this couple did into their origins.  Also, if you coaxed them just a little, they told you about the book they self published. A copy sits proudly in my bookshelf at home… well, when it’s not in the carving bag ready to show off with my hummingbird style fan bird.  “See what I carved?”
Let’s see… then there was Chris Howard, the carving cowboy from Gatlinburg (Tennessee of course).  He was doing a great job as instructor teaching Native American busts, and faces in general.  The “great job” rating was heard directly from students that had completed his workshops.  In a later e-mail he claimed that we all had an accent.  Sorry Chris. If we were in Gatlinburg, we would have had an accent.  Buddy, you were the northeast corner of Pennsylvania… you had the accent this time.  There was Nick Sciortino (A.K.A Koz) the chip carving barber.  Nick was another of our instructors.  His specialty is chip carving, and the free style things he does are amazing.  Fortunately none of my other classes bombed, but if they had, his chip carving class might have been my next stop.  I walked in on an impromptu meeting of instructors just in time for a joke telling session between him and Jack Miller.  It was close Jack, but I think Sciortino?  He ummm…  Nick’d you out?
There was another workshop I had the privilege to attend Tuesday evening, and that was one taught by Elmer Jumper.  Elmer’s class was kind of a last minute, unscheduled thing with a unique project called “defo dog”.  Seen a lot of dog carvings, but this one was in a classic pose dogs do while depositing solid fertilizer on your lawn.  The "kit" came complete with a small elbo of black walnut.  I'll leave the rest of that carving to your fertile imaginations.  Yep, unique.  At complete odds with the dog project we were carving, Elmer desribed, in words reverent and painterly, his pilgrimage to the woodcarving Mecca of St. Jean-port-Joli and meeting Benoi Deschenes.  It was definitely a trip for somewhere in my future.

Our Honesdale, Pa roundup may have been a bit smaller than its Michigan based namesake (125+ carvers vs. 500+), but by all accounts it was a huge success.  I will definitely be there next year.  And Harold?  He might have forgiven me for volunteering him.  He’s definitely hooked on teaching.  On the trip home and the lunch stop in Hancock, the main topic was all about his classes next year, which he already had all planned out and scheduled in his head.  I half expected him to hand me a coping saw and make me choose between cutting blanks and walking back to Rome, NY.  It’s a long walk back so I sat and listened quietly… for a change.
Building #3Back to the present... Like most magical events, the first year of the NEWR seems so long ago and, at the same time, just like yesterday... simultaneously joyous and melancholy to remember.  Traditions constantly brought back and slightly reinvented over the following six years.  Times that can never be recaptured and yet yearly we come together and resurrected them just the same, but with a slightly different spin.  "Traditions", like the back-and-forth "Koz" and I started about whether chip carving was “real” woodcarving and realizing from the start I would never get the last word, not with Nick.  Before I get a load of hate mail here, I do believe it's legitatmate, just don't tell Koz, OK? The very next year I did take Koz’s advanced chip carving class.  He called me a Wayne Barton "ringer" and immediately blew my cover the next morning by leaving an announcement on my white board that “Your instructor is also expert chip carver”.  I have yet to live it down <G>.  Also one evening that next year, I sat in on ElmerJumper’s outhouse Christmas ornament workshop. If you remember reading above, the first year we did "defo dog"? Definitely a pattern for the ornament collector who thinks they have everything.  I seriously think Elmer should publish a book… “Woodcarving Projects for the Politically Incorrect”. I would absolutely buy his first ten copies (at least), and give them as gifts to my politically incorrect friends (some of my favorite kind of friends).  He hasn't been at the NEWR for the past couple of years, but thanks to him, Yvonne and I have pilgrimmaged to St. Jean-Port-Joli and have a wealth of fine memories of that place as well.
I think the second year is when I met Floyd Rhadigan, one of the many woodcarvers over the years that I consider "well met".  Before I'm accused of "name dropping", I met him several times and several years before he became a Caricature Carvers of America member.  From the projects he taught that first year, it was easy to predict his eventual CCA membership.  We've both attended several Tuesday evening jam sessions where he sometimes plays a soulful Native American flute, but always plays a mean harmonica.  The first of several jam sessions was hosted by Sandie in her RV.  My favorite of the early years was the first year she traveled with Ol' Don Burgdorf and her RV had the expandable living room.  Sandy Holder, who organizes the original "roundup" in Evart, MI, was on hammer dulcimer and her husband had the Roledex harmonica.  It was several harmonicas of different keys mounted on a common axis so you could "dial up" the proper key for a song.  Floyd and I were inspired and considered  mounting N.A. flutes similiarly only with a crank slector, like a gatling gun (Ah yes... yet another caricature I haven't carved yet). Ol Don, John Dunkle, and Tony "Key-of-D" Erikson were on acoustic guitar, Ray Mighells had a hand carved electric bass there, Floyd had his harmonicas, and we both had N.A. flutes.  The rest sang along. Since that year, members of that group have left and others have replaced them.  These days Chuck and Theresa Trella are a driving force, so the tradition continues, but in a different way.  The last two years we have had new teachers join us like Dennis Thornton and Pete LeClair who came to us as CCA members.  In Dennis's case I'm still not droppin' names.  I know Dennis from further back than Floyd... like waaaay back when he was completely shutting me out of the caricature category of the Mohawk Valley Art and Woodcarving Association show.

I could go on (and on... and on... and...), but I can see your eyes are sufficiently glazed over so let me leave you with this.  Yes we are like family, but we have a rotating membership.  There's always room for new members and new memories.  Come join us, and if the NEWR is too far away, there are similiar events in most corners of the U.S. and Canada.  They're worth searching out, and odds are very, very good that they're worth a try.

Koz is elevatedBrokeback Woodcarvers?

Chris HowardElmer Jumper

A Young CarverSally Nye

Lon's Wpodspirit Jim O'Dea

John G. Dennis Thornton

Keep on Carvin'
-Mike Bloomquist->


Mike Bloomquist is a carver and carving teacher, and a regular contributor to WOM.

You may visit Mike's web site, Wooden Dreams Woodcarving HERE or email him at m.bloomquist AT woodendreamz DOT com









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