Local group creates incredible objects from wood

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Kayla Bunge
Monday, August 17, 2009
— Marla Matranga is willing to try almost anything when it comes to woodcarving.

From her first woodcarving class at a local arts and craft store to her weekly meetings with a local woodcarving group, the Fontana woman always has kept one thing in mind: “Be adventurous.”

Matranga is among about a half-dozen folks who make up the Williams Bay Woodcarvers, a group of artists who have been carving wood for more than a decade.

The group meets for a couple hours each week, and the members share patterns, tools and advice as they work on their projects.

The atmosphere is cozy. The people are warm. And the carvings are beautiful.

At a recent meeting the group gathered closely around a large wooden table, a stack of woodcarving magazines at the center and tools and half-completed projects strewn about the perimeter.

Sunlight streamed through the big windows, illuminating the busy hands of each carver as he or she transformed a piece of wood into a piece of art.

The carvers often stopped their work to take a look at what the others were doing, to share stories or to rest their hands.

Twinkling eyes and bright smiles welcomed members and visitors (and even a reporter with little knowledge about woodcarving).

The group has created dozens of figures. Many of them are given away to friends and family; few are sold for money.

Matranga still considers herself an inexperienced carver, even after about 10 years with the group. She uses the weekly meetings to work on projects and gather advice from expert carvers Armand Brastad of Williams Bay and Jack Hayes of Elkhorn, who are among the “originals” in the group.

“They push us into teaching opportunities,” she said of herself and three other women in the group. “Little by little, these guys pushed us along and helped us every step of the way.”

Matranga had been working on a carving of a saint that is meant to be hung on a wall, but Brastad brought her starting blocks, which he carved from blank pieces of wood, so she could start working on a chubby Santa Claus and a whimsical Christmas tree.

She pushed the saint project aside.

“I take whatever is presented to me,” she said, “because I want to learn.”

Ronnie Van Antwerp appreciates the support she gets from the group.

She had been a painter and a sculptor for many years when she lived in Chicago, but she found no daytime art classes a couple years ago when she moved to Delavan. She joined the woodcarving group with a little hesitation because it is totally different from painting and sculpting.

“I always wanted to try woodcarving, but I never had the chance,” she said.

Van Antwerp said her family wasn’t sure about her new hobby.

“I didn’t have much encouragement,” she said. “My husband said, ‘You’ll cut your fingers off.’ My father said, ‘You’ll cut your fingers off.’ But I didn’t care.”

Brastad especially enjoys helping carvers who are just getting the hang of things.

He is full of ideas to make carving easier. He suggested Van Antwerp cut a frame out of Styrofoam to protect the delicate pieces of her project, a majestic carousel horse.

He also is full of stories of projects gone awry. He recalled whittling away mistakes on his first carving until there was no wood left to whittle away.

Brastad said woodcarving is a rewarding hobby, not only for the friendship and fun but because it’s a journey from a plain piece of wood to an exquisite work of art.

“To have a sharp tool and to listen to it sing through the wood is something I enjoy,” he said. “When you chip away at the wood … and something comes out of it and you look at it and you can’t believe you did it—that’s just wonderful.”

Last updated: 11:08 am Thursday, December 13, 2012

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