Laurie Lundell Gmyrek, Loon Lady
By: Si Seifert <email@example.com>
This is an example of the type of article I hope to see more of in future issues of this E-zine, because articles that feature interesting people are so,... well,... INTERESTING !!
I like to read what people do, and where they do it, and why they started doing it and... well,... you get the idea. Hope this article inspires more of you to suggest articles for other interesting people of the woodcarving variety :-)
"Peregrine Falcon. Palm Frond, a currently favored medium. First effort with airbrushed acrylics. Best of Show in PSWA California Open, 1996.
Auctioned for $1500.
In 1984, Laurie Lundell Gmyrek (say Guh-mer'rick) was planning to attend her first professional woodcarving seminar. She didn't have the cash, so she taught 12 beginners to carve ducks from blanks using a sheet rock knife. Those students paid for the seminar and enough to purchase power tools.
The seminar subject was a decoy and, after a couple of days, she was doing well. Then she ruined the tail feathers. The teacher said, "NO! NO! NO! - you CAN'T carve tail feathers with power tools!" She thought "what do you mean - I can't?"
In 1985 she designed and power-carved, (tail feathers included), a pair of Loons on water and entered the International Decoy Contest at Davenport, Iowa. Unknowingly, she entered the Professional class. She won Honorable Mention. That was not good enough. Good enough never is acceptable to this renaissance woman. It did, however, launch the career of the "Loon Lady", champion wildfowl woodcarver.
She's a mother, detective, stained glass artist, silversmith, web page specialist, musician, poet, writer, raconteur, teacher, entrepreneur and perfectionist, but above all, she's a woodcarver.
"A 1/4 size Common Loon. Tupelo and oil. Favorite subject, favorite medium. Butternut base is a striking example of water-carving technique."
Growing up in suburban Minnesota with her mother and brother, Laurie McNeil found herself in high school cutting "boring" classes and sneaking into art classes where she learned some arts fundamentals and silversmithing.
Glass Loon with Chicks. "A recent original stained glass creation. 37" x 13", 175 pieces." Photos are all Lauries, another of her many skills.
Her first job was as a store detective, and in 1979 she became a supervisor in Merchandise Returns, a department frequented by shoplifters, at prestigious Dayton-Hudson Co. She left D-H in 1986 to return to her love for the arts. But before leaving, she finished an investigation resulting in the arrest and conviction of over 40 shoplifters and the recovery of over $1,000,000 worth of merchandise, Minnesota's record shoplifter bust. Good, but not surprising for one who expects to be the best.
Eagle Head "Limited edition bronze from an original wood carving. Required a new carving approach to retain uncommon feather detail she's famous for.
Entering the stained glass business part-time with her mother in 1977, she became proficient at the craft, but was dis-enchanted with simply filling orders for the trade. In 1982, store space was rented by a salesman who carved decoy blanks and sold them for $450. Laurie watched and thought, "I can do it better." When the salesman offered a class in carving, she enrolled. With a sheet rock knife, she was to carve a stylized pintail. Then, for Christmas she received a copy of LeMaster's "Anatomy of a Wildfowl". Comparing the feathers she'd carved with the closeups in the book, she recognized how wrong hers were. She finished the head and bill realistically using photos in the book and liked it.
"The Phoenix was actually pulled from a burned out fire. Only the eyes are carved. Black Walnut base, with relief-carved and charred pre-cambrian Archaeopteryx."
This led to a realistic Loon pair on water that won Honorable mention at the 1985 International Decoy Contest in Davenport Iowa, where she unknowingly entered as a professional. The pattern was set.
1985 at the North American in Lavonia,MI, a Canada Goose head, her 26th piece, took third and brought a record price of $1500, $900 more than the first place piece. In 1986 she entered a Loon head, her second waterfowl head, in the California Open winning her first Best of Show.
"2 1/2-in. Miniature Chickadee. Tupelo and oils. Best Of Show at California Open in 1995."
The buyer of that piece asked her to carve a "Bitchin' Redhead" head. Decoy carver Ron Eakins agreed to deliver the piece. Later, in a Dec. 17th, 1997 recollection to the Woodc@rver's Mail list, he said: "I had her duck head with me in the motel room over night and couldn't resisttaking it out and looking at it. I wound up studying that head for about three hours. The first thing I learned was humility. This nearly perfect specimen was carved by a WOMAN. It was the absolute best that I had ever seen."
The story was only beginning. In 1986 she won Best of Show's at the California Open, the LWC & CG and the Catahoula Lake Festival and again at the Davenport show of 1987. In 1988 she did it again at the California Open and the Minnesota Loon Festival. In 1989 she again won in Louisiana and again in 1995 at the Minnesota Loon Festival and the LWC&CG show. 1997 brought the honor again, with 3 Loons on water, at the Minnesota Loon Festival. Bob Sutton, director of the PSWA got her started carving palm fronds in 1995. Not surprisingly, her Old Squaw took second at the 1995 California Open. A Peregrine Falcon won B.O.S. in 1996 and sold for $1500. A Red Tail Hawk brought $1350 in 1997. 13 years had passed, Laurie Lundell Gmyrek had proven you can indeed carve tail feathers with power tools.
"Oil on canvas. Lauries first attempt in this medium. 1995. Among finalists in Minnesota License plate competition."
Laurie lives with husband Mark and 4-year old daughter Alexis on a beautiful lake on a dirt road, near Browerville, Minnesota. Mark's a 3rd generation dairy farmer. She has a son, James, 16 and daughter Jennifer, 13, who live with their father, her first husband, in Minnetonka.
There was a studio and school briefly, which she reluctantly closed in 1992 She now carves almost exclusively by commission, leaving little to show in her studio. She works and teaches at home, where she may carve an Eagle, a Red Tailed Hawk or a pair of songbirds, along with the waterfowl. Her best will bring $10,000 and have brought as much as $15,000. Asked what she does best, she'll say "teach". But she's created stained glass doors for her home and for Mark's parents. Photos of these may be seen, along with examples of her carving at www.rea-alp.com/~artistry/index.htm. She plays guitar and sings, occasionally leading Karaoke in Browerville. There are Bass, Northerns and Walleyes in the lake and she and Mark sponsor a fishing derby and picnic that attracts 300 people annually. She's identified over 60 different wildfowl on and near the lake.
There's occasional poetry for herself and family and an article will be published this year in a Wildfowl Carving magazine. She says "I wish I had 10 clones. Of course, I'd have to be in charge".
She's creating the Ward World Waterfowl Championships web page. IWCA Web page is hers. You'll see her free tips and advice to whittlers at http://wwwoodcarver.com. But mostly, she's one some kind of whittler.
The sheetrock knife lies in a drawer in her studio.
"C. J. "Si" Seifert is a retired businessman in Helena, MT U.S.A. An amateur carver, he discovered Laurie on the WWWoodc@rver Mailing List and has yet to meet her in person."