Mohawk Valley Art & Woodcarving Association

March 2000 

By Mike Bloomquist

The Meeting

Carl Borst was back form points South to call our last meeting to order, March 7th, 2000 at 7:05pm.  Minutes form last meeting were... ummm... not there.  Read your newsletter, I think I got it all (all that fit to print!).  We gathered at the tables this meeting.  Carl tried to convince those who could not hear to gather closer, and a very curt ‘just talk louder!’ came from the back.  I think it was Carl’s ‘boss’.  Don Painter concluded a well itemized list of transactions with a club balance of $5238.00.  Welcome our guests that evening, Dick and Ivy Quay.  A second welcome to Dick who is our newest member. Carl got the meeting of to one heckuva start by coercing a story out of Armand Hebard.  Something about a pony with a respiratory problem. Seems it was a ‘little hoarse’... guess you had to be there.  Armand tells it much better.  Andy Ebli reports that all nativity pieces are complete and will be completed within a couple weeks. RonMeyers had tickets, show posters and flyers.  Make sure to get some!  Especially pick up some tickets to sell. Welcome back to Sr. Mary Ellen!  We missed you. She assures us that publicity for the new show will be in full swing by the end of March.  After the great job she did on last year’s show, we ought to have at least half of Albany at our new location. Carol Ayers is taking care of orders for hats and T-shirts.  She is also selling patches like hotcakes.  The patches are in-stock, but going fast. Andy Ebli, of ‘hearts & flowers’ fame, reports that 3 cards went. One each to GerryShook, Bill McCormick and Pieter Paulding.  All are doing well, and hopefully our thoughts and Prayers will bring them quickly back to us.  Gee, hope nobody minds me using the ‘P’ term here... aw heck! So fire me! Andy Ebli brought in the awesome, four wheel sharpening station that the club commissioned him to build.  Kudos to George Hallenbeck for donating the electric motor which is not an inexpensive component and rather essential to its operation (unless you’re into the treadle option!).  Instructions for operation of the new sharpener will be provided at the next session of “Everyone Carves Something”.  Thanks to Steve Madej for providing a four drawer, lockable file cabinet to store it and the video library in.  There’s still room left in the cabinet for the pattern and book library.  Speaking of our video library, Dick Moran received those three instructional tapes in the mail recently.  Nice work Dick.  We only approved their purchase at the last meeting.  Our tape library is awesome, and I’ve got to remember a $10 deposit next meeting, so I can get some out.  Also, as program chairman, Dick gives us the following schedule:




April 4 
“Everyone Carves Something” Night … Theme: Carving Canes (if interested, otherwise BYOC)
May 2 
Ornamental Carvings; Fish, Feathers, Birds & Bolos
Mike Fields, Walt Leclair &
Joe Rusik
June 6
“Everyone Carves Something” Night … If you like... Fish, Feathers, Birds & Bolos! (see
previous month’s program), otherwise BYOC
July 11
Deep Relief Carvings
Bud Murtlow
Aug 1
“Everyone Carves Something” Night … If you like... Deep Relief, otherwise BYOC. Bonus, a slide show by George Hallenbeck
Sept 5
Painting Techniques
Mystery Presenter
Oct 3
“Everyone Carves Something” Night… Carving Christmas Ornaments and Decorations with a pattern exchange.
Nov 7
Mystery Presenter
Sept 5
Christmas Party

Under new business, President Carl Borst suggested that we needed a formal membership chairperson. Our ‘nay’ sayer made a motion to name John Raucci (in absentia), then proceeded to cast the only vote against it.  There’s got to be something in the ‘Rules of Order’ against that!  Any how John, there probably isn’t enough there to get it nullified.  Besides, the ‘fix was in’ so ‘yu da man’.  Congratulations, I think. 

The Night’s Program

For this meeting’s program we got triple teamed by George Terwilliger, Bill McCormack, and Carol Ayers who did a wonderful presentation on carving canes, walking sticks and hiking staffs. George led off  the trio by telling us that when he gave away one of his first canes as a gift, it brought tears to the recipients eyes.  This convinced him that cane carving was his forte, and he’s been giving them as gifts ever since.  No Carl, he doesn’t do it to make people cry!  Carl let fly with a couple like that from the Lay-Z-Boy he took over off to the side... must be something to do with that ‘executive chair’.  George displayed a great table saw jig that allows him to join the staff firmly to the handle and form cane ‘blanks’.  Bill’s carving experience goes back to his father who carved whistles.  Bill carved his first walking stick from a broom handle stolen from a NYC street sweeper.  OK... not the best way to start a hobby, but there probably weren’t many lumber yards or natural sources of wood near you.  He’s also used banisters for blanks (nothing is safe from this guy).  His construction is a bit different since he carves the handles and drills a hole in it to receive the round shaft.  He finds he can interchange handles and shafts for different combinations making them easier to sell.  He just received some diamond willow from Alaska.  I’ve seen this stuff, and it should make some interesting sticks.  Carol batted ‘clean up’ and promptly blamed her cane carving addiction on George, who taught it to her.  She says, for her, there are no animals or faces in the wood... only shapes.  We’re not talking diamonds or circles here, but these wonderful, ‘flowing’ shapes that lead your eye on an excursion from one end of the cane to the other.  Sometimes your eye travels right through the cane as Carol carves these lengthwise, curved openings in the cane itself.  Most of her wood comes from donations, but adds that her husband Norman says, “Tell them you don’t need anymore wood!” It turns out Norman, using a copy of George’s jig, constructs the cane blanks Carol uses as her canvas.  All three had beautiful examples of their art on display, and the meeting broke up very slowly as many of us admired the canes and talked with them. 

Selling Your Woodcarvings

OK, just for the heck of it, let's talk about selling your carvings.  I get the impression from some that they feel it's pretty mercenary, something akin to selling off your children.  BTW, I'm having a great sale on Melissa at next month's meeting!  My daughter is low mileage, relatively quiet, and had all her shots.  She's even had 4.5 years training in woodcarving. Although you will need to break her of this attitude she carves better than you do. Back on the subject... yeah, it is tough parting with those wood carved creations, especially the ones with lots of blood, sweat, and tears invested in them (personal recommendation: 95% sweat, 4.9% tears, .1% blood... less scar tissue that way).  Even now I consider the larger pieces more like adoptions than sales.  There are some big pluses to selling your work. There are few judges more objective or critical of the quality of your carvings than someone parting with their hard earned 'green ribbons' for the privilege of taking your work home for display or to give as a gift.  My wife, Yvonne, coined that 'green ribbon' term at a non-competitive show in Morrisville, Vermont right after we sold my first dragon carving.  That creature required 100hrs of BS&T to create.  One way to ease the separation anxiety is to earmark at least part of the cash for something special or a carving related necessity.  The dragon sale bought a badly needed, full size violin for Melissa.  The older daughter, Laura, asked for her share in the form of a stereo for the bedroom. Because of that transformation it was remarked on the drive home to New York that the dragon turned out to be both magical and musical.  More recently, 'carving money' will buy new tires for the craft trailer. This deviates a bit from a personal rule that you should aim the cash flow towards non-perishable items.  For example, use the moneys for a band saw, but not band saw blades.  Splurge on a detail sander, but not the sanding pads.  Buy the X-Acto heavy-duty handle, but not the extra package of throwaway blades (hope Bud Murdock appreciates that last example, it gave me such a muscle twitch I almost deleted the whole page!). Suffering guilt pangs over buying that $50 hardcover on Grinling Gibbons?  Not even that 'pink stuff' works as fast as a $55 sale of a Swedish tomte. Tuition, gas and thruway tolls for the up coming workshop with David Sabol are definitely from 'carving funds', although my family accountant (a.k.a. Yvonne, a.k.a. 'wife') says I'm entitled to it as a birthday gift regardless.  She says I've been real good this year... for a change.  

All right!  We've beaten that topic to death.  So now you say, "Great!  Selling your carvings isn't a mortal sin.  You've convinced me, so where do I sell my little darlings?"  Well, maybe you don't say that, but lets go with the hypothetical.  Sell them at carving shows?  Probably not.  Although moving our show to Albany will increase the probability of sales, you shouldn't expect much.  Besides, sales are not our primary intent (excuse the bright flash of innocence!).  I'm working from a small sampling of personal experience, but most carving shows (the good ones IMHO) promote interest in the craft, and provide an environment where non-carvers or new carvers can get inspired and acquire the advice and equipment to get started.  Because of this, the better shows see the vendors/suppliers doing good business.  New knives, new books, carving blanks and blocks of wood go out the door in abundance, but not many finished woodcarvings.  Obvious exceptions to this rule are carving events like the Ward Foundation Show, which is well attended by collectors of bird art. 

What about craft shows?  They are a definitive 'yes' and 'no'.  Yes, they are a good place to get your start.  At the general craft bazaar, sponsored by the local church or volunteer fire department, you'll have some success with small, easily completed pieces priced where you're making less than minimum wage for your efforts.  If you can make back the cost of your booth, the hot-dogs and cans of soda you bought for lunch at the 'kitchen', and still afford some basswood or supplies, then you count yourself successful.  The attitude that "Hey! It's a hobby." will help you to retain a healthy perspective, and you can hone your conversation and selling skills at the same time.  No, the buyers at these venues are not looking for that full size wood duck you spent half the day putting the base coat on.  And those folks probably can't cover the cost of the hours you spent burning feather details unless they skip the car payment that month.  Besides, when the price that you calculated from $5/hr puts them into cardiac arrest, it's considered poor taste to push the sale at the same time your dialing 911.  Seriously, it's a good idea to display the duck anyway as a "gee whiz" item, but dedicate most of your space to lower priced items (especially under $20).  As you move towards the "fine arts" craft shows, with juried entrance and $150-$400 per booth fees, you can expect to see potential to sell that 100-200 hour masterpiece with $10, museum quality glass eyes.  Just don't count on it for next month's car payment. 

What about specialty shows?  Personally, I haven't tried them, but I know carvers and craft people who do well at them.  The trick is matching the show to what you're carving (or versa-visa).  Wildlife art shows like the Annual Decoy and Wildlife Art Show in Clayton, NY (July 14-16, details in a future newsletter) are great for wildlife carvings of waterfowl, songbirds, and North American animals.  If you relief carve cars and trucks, then try auto shows.  Love spoons are a good bet at Celtic or Welsh festivals.  Fantasy and myth carvings match well with gatherings by the Society for Creative Anachronism (those are the folks that get into jousting, chain mail and wench auctions).  Christmas open house events are great for Santa Carvers.  Well, you can take it from there. I'm pooped! 

Gift shops or gift boutiques are usually a good bet.  Shop managers can buy your items outright and re-sell them, or they can agree to display them for a commission, which ranges between 20-60%.  That percentage commission deal can grind a little.  "The store owner didn't get stitches carving this!  Why should they make a profit of my BS&T just because they can afford to own a store!"  Well, that depends a lot on the location of the shop.  With the right location, you can reach a market that will actually pay a price that is 20-60% above what you can sell at normally.  Effectively that means you mark your items up to cover what the owner of the store receives.  There is a particular Santa design, which I can sell for $85 locally.  At the Artworks I sell a version which is only slightly improved for $195, and the other members are still telling me it's too low.  The difference is that I'm reaching a wider audience.  One buyer collected Santas carved from wood exclusively, and another couple had only Santas on skis in their collection. The folks buying these are Santa collectors from Massachusetts and New Jersey who you won't find at a Rome, NY craft show (well, not very often anyway).  The store has the access to these people... I don't.  So the commission is my fee for using their access.  Makes it much easier to swallow in that context. The Artworks is unique in that it's an artist co-op.  No one person owns the store and all members do shifts working at the store (approximately 12hrs a month depending on # of members).  The co-op pays rent to building owner, pays for power and heat, advertisement, etc.  All member sales have 20% taken off the top to run the store.  This is right on Main St. Old Forge where the commission ranges from 40-50%.  We include non-member items in the store at a 40% commission.  I think this is what I've been driving at since the beginning of this writing.  Bet you though I was just babbling aimlessly!  Well, that too, but never mind.  I feel real fortunate to have stumbled on this outfit two years ago, and recommend this kind of organization highly.  It's a regular excuse to go somewhere and talk to generally nice folks, occasionally talk woodcarving with another in the craft, and pretend you own a store for one or two days out of the month.  This particular co-op is a bit far for most of the membership (lucky for me!), but I know there was one in Saratoga Spa, Lake George, and I'd bet a bandaid there's one in Cooperstown.  Check them out when you get a chance. Well, I'd like to get into web sites, but a tree is a terrible thing to waste, and I'm just shy of wasting a whole one here.  We'll save that topic for another time (unless I get threatened or bribed not too ;-)). 

There's a rumor out that some of our membership is doing a pilgrimage to the Woodcarving Illustrated Open House near Lancaster, Pa on March 24th and 25th. Suddenly it seems I'll be there also.  Yvonne got a hold of the ad that came in the mail and decided it was something Melissa and I should go see.  It was a horrible struggle, and my arm is still sore from the twisting, but it looks like she's getting her way.  It always goes like that.  All because she wrestled in high school while I was in the chess club. Darn her!  I think my going down brings the number of MVAWA folks attending up to five or six.  I'm sure there won't be much to tell since we'll all be on our usual good behavior, but you never know with Dick Moran and John R****i in the group.  Anyway, one of us will be sure to give you a run down on how it was. 

That's it for this month.  See ya at the April meeting!