A long weekend is upon us, thanks to America’s 239th Independence Day, the day the American forefathers declared independence from Great Britain. For more than two centuries, Americans have been celebrating this solemn day each year with fireworks and gatherings of family and friends.
But for some, a long weekend is for hobbies: Some might fly kites at a park or ride a motorcycle and zoom about the town or repair their car or lawnmower — all in the name of hobby.
My newfound hobby is woodcarving, including relief-carving, sculpting and wood-burning. The statistics show that older people who enjoy painting, drawing, sculpting or do other forms of artwork are less likely to fall prey to the brain diseases such as Alzheimer’s and dementia, and I, too, decided that it’s time to protect my brain, the center of my being.
The kinds of wood you can carve are usually old, selected and have been processed, so that they’re soft enough to cut and are durable too.
Woodcarving is a reduction process, which means you cut away excess wood from your project, and once done, you can’t reverse what’s done. In a sense, it’s like walking on the Bridge of No Return. No regrets. No turning back!
Woodcarving benefits all age groups, not only older people.
Austin Moen, 16, a sophomore at Mill Valley High School, joins his grandpa, Jack Moen, on Tuesday mornings at Tomahawk Ridge Community Center, where about 20 local woodcarvers have been gathering to exchange ideas, critique one another’s work and learn from one another since 2008. According to Grandpa Moen, Austin learned to carve at age 5, often cutting his little fingers, but he kept on carving. Like his grandpa, Austin carves cowboys, and believe it or not, the cowboys carved by the Moens share a likeliness of one another. And grandpa and grandson always sit next to one another at the table and quietly carve for two hours. The proud grandpa once tipped me that, Austin, besides being a young carver, is an outstanding student, too, and fixes his own Honda Accord when necessary.
“He wants to be a mechanical engineer!”
What drew him to carving wood?
“For the fun of it,” Austin said.
Austin works 45 hours a week during his summer vacation but still finds time to carve and “hang out” with his friends, he said.
Another carver who also happened to be named Jack — Jack Selck — who lives in Oak Grove, began carving 25 years ago as a hobby, but today he’s a well-known artist. He mostly taught himself to carve, he said, as a traveling salesman long before his retirement in 2007.
“In the evenings in my hotel room, after long hours on the road, there was nothing more enjoyable than cutting wood with my knives,” Selck said. “Many times, the staff at the motel I stayed at provided me an extra bed-sheet to catch the wood chips falling from my project, and some of them even visited my room to see how much my artwork has progressed. Who inspired me to carve? No one, really! I have taken classes, but most of what I know today is by working alone and correcting my own mistakes.”
At his home studio in Oak Grove, he often turns his favorite music on while carving, but when he was traveling, he didn’t have that luxury. But he benefited from working long hours in solitude where he was the sole judge of his own work.
The rules in the hobby world are not complicated. Once your project grabs you and demands what it wants to become in your hands, you and your project are bonded to be true in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health, and together you take a journey to the unknown. Call it a gamble. But it’s a rewarding journey filled with fun.
Retired musician and freelance columnist Therese Park has written three novels about Korea’s modern history.