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Lion In The Desert

by Joe Dillett

Team Arbortech Carves A Lion for Make-A-Wish Foundation at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas.

When a news release was posted on the Woodcarver List by carver Jim Wilson, saying that he was organizing a carving event, I knew that it was going to be something special and I wanted to get involved. Arbortech, an Australian company that manufactures woodcarving tools, was assembling a team of Arbortech demonstrators to carve a lion in a style similar to that of Charles Looff, an early 1900's carousel carver.

This non-commercial event for the benefit of Make-A-Wish Foundation, which assists needy children, was scheduled for June 16th, 17th, and 18th, in Las Vegas Nevada, hosted by the MGM Grand.

Arbortech's North American Sales Manager, Australian Malcolm Gillett, was overseeing the project. Oregon resident Wilson assembled the Team Arbortech members, who included Jim Burke of Minnesota, Lois Henry of North Carolina, Steve Russell from Texas, Jack Fragoso from Northern California, Dave Lavoie of Southern California, Martha Drake from Texas, and me, Joe Dillett from Illinois.

Jim Wilson, who carves carousel animals, organized the total event. He supplied all the basswood, glued up the block, and took care of many details that took months of planning. Jim selected the MGM Grand Hotel and Casino because they host a large collection of living lions. Our lion was larger than life size, standing about 57 inches high and 7 foot long (without the tail). The goal was to nearly complete the lion by the end of the 3 days with only 8 hours per day of actual carving time. The Arbortech Power Chisel, Industrial Pro, and MiniGrinder were to play the major roll in speeding up the carving process. The size of the lion allowed 3 to 4 carvers to work simultaneously. Jim Wilson will finish carving the lion, paint it, and arrange to auction it for Make-A-Wish Foundation.

With the arrangements made, all I had to do was show up and bring a few tools, in case they were needed. Arbortech, the major sponsor of this event, took care of our rooms and fed us well. Malcolm Gillett organized the team and saw to all our needs. Make-A-Wish had volunteers in the booth, and kept an abundance of cold drinks and snacks available for all of us. Lois Henry carved our model. Lois also wanted to donate her model to Make-A-Wish, so we sold raffle tickets in the booth. My wife, Sharon and I really looked forward to a vacation and spending some quality time for a good cause with enough time left for fun.

The lion lay sleeping in the glued-up blank in the back of Jim Wilson's truck.


My excitement rose to a new level as we arrived at the gate in Las Vegas and that big walkway tube was attaching to the plane to suck us out. Arrangements were made for the team to meet Thursday evening in the lobby of our hotel, the Hampton Inn where team member Jim Burke's niece works in management. On my way to the lobby I couldn't help wonder about the power of the Internet that brought us together. I've only exchanged emails and never met any of the team members in person and now we are about to do great things together. A feeling of reassurance came over me, as we shared warm smiles and handshakes, that this was going to be a fun and successful event. We were all anxious to see the block of wood Jim Wilson had already glued up and to get the booth set up.

Malcome Gillett take the first ride.


Friday morning the chips started flying as Team Arbortech started to bring the lion to life. The weather was sunny and hot with every day between 100 and 120 degrees F.. We dare not lay our tools in the sun because they would get so hot we couldn't touch them. We emptied water bottles one after another. No one got sick from the heat, which was our main concern. The chips flew and the excitement grew. For a while we thought we should slow down because those Arbortech tools were making us go so fast that we may finish before the end of the weekend. Then realizing the magnitude of details left to carve we kept the pace. If there was any apprehension about all us carvers working together, it was gone. We were really having fun working together. We all were studying the pattern that Lois carved. No issues arose about the design. Everyone enjoyed carving. We enjoyed our new friendship. We enjoyed the feeling that we were doing something for a great cause.



Day One: After just six hours of carving the Arbortech tools help bring the lion to life. Dave Lavoie in front, Joe Dillett in back left, Jack Fragoso in back right.


Day Two: Six hours into the second day, Steve Russell is working on detailing the saddle.


Day Three: Four hours into the third day, Lois is working on the mane; Jim Burke works on the face.


Lois carves the ear while Jim Wilson uses a CD as a mirror so Lois can accurately copy the other ear.




Model carved by Lois Henry; Lois, thanks for your hard work and technical support.


I hated to see the third day come to an end. The feeling while putting the lion back in Jim Wilson's truck was a little sad. We hated to leave Jim with the finishing and painting, but we also felt a great pride in what we were able to do for Make-A-Wish and the wonderful work they do. The finished lion will be presented and sold at a foundation auction to provide needed funds so a child with life threatening medical needs will be allowed to have their most special wish come true. We hope when the lion goes up for auction that people will be generous.

Thanks to my new 'Team Arbortech' friends. Thanks to Malcolm for keeping it fun and exciting. Thanks to Jim Wilson for his months of preparation and hard work.

The proud Team Arbortech is about to hand the lion back to Jim Wilson (kneeling in front) for finishing.

Standing from left is Dave Lavoie, Lois Henry, Steve Russell, Jim Burke, Kathleen Hopper (Executive Director of Make-A-Wish Foundation of Southern Nevada) Malcolm Gillett, Martha Drake (supporting member of Team Arbortech), and Joe Dillett.

Joe Dillett is a professional carver and teacher working out of his studio in Somonauk, IL. You may visit Joe's website at http://thecarvingshop.com or email Joe at jdillett@thecarvingshop.com