Posted by Lorraine Bartlett
My Dad was a craftsman, and could do just about anything. He built half the furniture in my house. Heck, he gutted my first house and made it a home. (I impeded him with that operation, but learned a lot, as well.)
He went through a lot of hobbies. For a while he did leathercraft. I still have--and use--the wallet he made for me over 30 years ago. He made jewelry. (I wear 14 rings, five of them he made.) But one of his most endearing projects were his wood carvings--a hobby that stayed with him for a long time. He liked to do variations of Santa, and literally did hundreds of them. These little guys were one of his first efforts, and look pretty primitive when compared with his later work. He gave them to me for my birthday in 1992. When he'd finished them, he thought they looked like they were singing--and that they should do that under a lamppost--so he made one of those, too!
At first, he was very critical of the painting of his carvings, and even asked my husband to do a few, but in no time he was better at it than Frank, and adding more and more decorations to the little guys. He did fat Santas, tall Santas and a lot of short Santas. His favorite were Tomties--little elves that help Santa. (As pictured on the right.) He made a LOT of these, and usually they were doing something, (like this little guy holding the candle) and usually wore "wooden" shoes.
I'm really not sure how Dad got into carving, but for him, it was an adventure, albeit a usually solitary affair. I had my critique group, and Dad had his carving buddies that he saw every few weeks. One of them moved to Berea, KY--home of The Kentucky Artisans center, which, like the name says, showcases the work Kentucky's best artisans. Dad's former carving partner wanted to make a certain carving, but it wouldn't come out right, so Dad made one and sent it to him as a prototype. Unknown to Dad, the man put Dad's carving into a local competition where it took first prize! (The one on the left is another version of that prizewinner.)
As far as adventures go, one day Dad was in his workshop carving, when he called up to my mother. "I've cut myself." She figured he'd cut his hand, but he'd actually dropped the knife on his thigh. When she got down to the workshop, there was so much blood, she thought he'd slashed an artery and got on the phone to 911, then hauled him upstairs to wait for the ambulance. There was blood everywhere--on the workshop floor, the stairs, all over the kitchen. The EMTs arrived in record time and got the bleeding under control, but they sent him to the ER just in case. Then they wanted to see THE CARVING KNIFE. When Mom showed the guy, he nearly went into hysterics of laughter. He'd been expecting a 10-inch carving knife, not a tiny 1-inch blade. (Hey, those suckers are sharp.) Ninety minutes later, Dad was belly-up to the bar at my Aunt's house where they were supposed to go for dinner--and only 30 minutes late. (Hey, there was a Manhattan waiting with his name on it.)
Dad didn't do too many carvings these last few years. His remaining carving buddy moved away and it wasn't so much fun any more. But last year for Christmas he gave me two of his last efforts. One was unpainted, the other was a Bear dressed in overalls. They live in my office, with a couple of fishermen, an owl, and an unfinished Santa tree ornament. The rest of them reside on a little bookshelf in my living room. I have carved bunnies, birds, a deer, and even a walrus, and I love them all.
Dad passed away in October, so there won't be just one more "found" carving to go in my collection. (I know they're there--I've seen them in his workshop, which is pretty much just the way he left it.)
It's the end of a wonderful tradition. While it makes me terribly sad, I have all these wonderful pieces that Dad made, a lot of them signed "For Lorraine made by her Dad."
The were the best Christmas presents ever.