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Wooden wonders: Ice not the only material getting carved at winter event

Published 9:28am Friday, January 31, 2014

While ice sculptures will be the main attraction of Saturday’s Dowagiac Ice Time Festival, the frozen blocks will not be the only material that area artisans will use their tools and imagination on.

Crafters with the Fruit Belt Carvers of Cassopolis will once again set up shop inside the “carver’s cave” at Front Street Crossing during the festival from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. The carvers will be displaying the various wooden creations they have crafted and will give visitors a live demonstration of the carving process.

People who show up to watch will also be able to talk to the men and women working, whether they want to know more about wood carving or the people behind the carving knife.

“A lot of B.S.-ing goes in as opposed to carving,” joked Don Wilcox, the president of the local woodcarving club. “It’s what it’s all about anyway, the camaraderie.”

Wilcox, of Dowagiac, has been a participant in the ice festival for the last four years. It was around that time when he started attending the Fruit Belt Carver meetings and began taking carving more seriously as a hobby.

“I started carving and found that I liked it, and have kept it up since then,” he said.

The local craftsman, who also works in construction, usually carves in the evening down in his basement, creating animals, caricatures and various other subjects from his wood stockpile.

“It’s very satisfying when you set out to do something and it comes out how you imagined it,” he said.

On Saturday, Wilcox plans to display a number of pieces from his collection, like his carvings of a longhorn antelope, goldeneye ducks and an otter, most of which are life-sized, he said.

In addition, he will also show off the eagle head carvings he has created for the Michigan Wood Carvers Association’s Patriot Cane project, which donates handcrafted canes to wounded veterans in Michigan. Wilcox crafted similar cane handles before for a pair of canes that were donated to two veterans living in St. Joseph.

“It’s our way of thanking veterans for their sacrifices,” he said.

Wilcox said he will have application forms for interested veterans to fill out on-hand Saturday.

The “carver’s cave” is a more relaxed environment than the shows and competitions Wilcox and his fellow woodcarvers usually attend during the summer. While Wilcox occasionally will sell one his pieces to visitors, he’s mostly interested in meeting new people and encouraging others who are interested in picking up the trade.

“We enjoy talking about it,” Wilcox said. “You’ll find out that most carvers have no problem talking about what they’re doing. We’re an informative bunch of people.”

Visitors who are interested in learning more about woodcarving can also attend Fruit Belt Carvers of Cassopolis meetings, where they can watch the members work or even try their own hand at carving.

“Most people feel they can’t do it because they don’t have the talent,” Wilcox said. “That’s not the case, most people can do it.”

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