GREENFIELD — Bob Havlin’s wife wouldn’t let him keep the dead birds in their freezer.
The 84-year-old woodcarver specializes in feathered friends, and there’s no better model than the real thing. But his better half wouldn’t budge, and so, his garage freezer became their home.
He didn’t kill them, he’s quick to note. People who know of his hobby bring him the birds — usually after they’ve fallen victim to an unexpected window — hoping he can use them to make something beautiful.
And he does.
Story continues below gallery
He studies the birds, counting their feathers, measuring their beaks and the distance between their eyes. Then, he goes to work to recreate a wooden likeness of the animals he so admires.
Havlin carves the bird’s form from a block of wood and then uses a wood burner to shape its feathers. He uses wire to create the legs and feet and completes the piece with glass eyes. One bird can take up to 56 hours to create.
On a recent evening at the Patricia Elmore Center in Greenfield, fellow carver Jim Webb admired Havlin’s work.
“He’s a detail man,” Webb said. “His work is very realistic.”
Havlin and Webb are two of a dozen or so woodcarvers who meet every Tuesday night for carving and a lot of talk. The carvers, mostly senior citizens, have been meeting for years — decades, really. Once called the Old National Road Carvers, the group used to meet in a woodworking store on the east side of Indianapolis. These days, they gather at the Patricia Elmore Center, 280 N. Apple St.
Webb, at 64, is the youngest of the carving group. He describes his work as whimsical. His specialty is walking sticks with faces and figures carved into the handles.
The group used to be much larger. Meetings used to be packed, with as many as 70 members, Webb said. But folks have gotten older, and now just a dedicated few remain.
Tom Deeter, 72, worked on a small figure of a man on a recent evening at the center. He likes carving because it clears his mind, he said.
“You forget about everything you’re doing and concentrate on not cutting your fingers off,” Deeter joked.
An evening with the woodcarving group is an evening of camaraderie and storytelling.
Havlin tells a story of a joke he played on his son-in-law. Havlin had seen several woodpeckers on his farm, and his son-in-law was envious and eager to see one, too. One morning, his son-in-law looked out the window and saw one of the birds perched on the side of his barn. He grabbed his camera and ran out to take a picture, only to discover it was one Havlin’s carvings.
Webb is working on a cowboy Santa that is still more of a block of wood than a carving. Pencil markings outline a rough shape on the wood. Webb, like 90 percent of carvers, uses basswood for his carvings.
Basswood is a hardwood with no wood grain, Webb said. It doesn’t break easily, and there are no knots in the wood. You don’t want knots when you’re carving, he explained.
Webb’s wife, Joan, also an artist, sells his work out of their studio at the Creative Arts and Event Center at 2 W. Main St. in downtown Greenfield.
“She thinks it’s art,” Webb said. “I make it because it’s fun, and it pleases me.”
The members’ interest in woodcarving is as unique as they are.
Bill Bowles, 84, has made something of a business of it. He attends a nationally known woodcarvers show in Dayton, Ohio, every year in November. He rents a 30-foot table and sells wood blanks to other carvers. Some carvers start from scratch, but others start their projects with roughed out wooden shapes like the kind Bowles makes.
He creates the machine-shaped pieces of wood in rough shapes of animals, human figures or anything a carver might want to make as a way of getting them started on their projects. His carvings are examples of what the various rough shapes can be carved into.
Bowles jokingly declined to say how many years he’s been a woodcarver.
“Long enough to be better at it than I am,” Bowles said with a smile.
Larry Haines, another carver, got back into carving when he retired. He calls his craft “serious whittling.” His carvings go mostly to his grandkids. It’s clear he enjoys the companionship of the woodcarvers.
“They’re an interesting bunch of guys, and we all have something in common,” Haines said.
Paul Jewell’s specialty is birdhouses and pencils with faces carved into them. He mostly gives his work away as gifts.
“It keeps me out of the pool halls,” Jewell claims.
The woodcarving group enjoys the intimacy of being in a small group of people who have known each other for a long time, but they expressed concern about their dwindling numbers.
All agreed they would be more than happy to pass their “old-person craft” on to the next generation.
It’s an open invitation.
“We have wood, and we have tools, and we’d be more than happy to take newcomers under our wing and get them started in woodcarving,” Webb said.
A local woodcarvers group meets from 6 to 9 p.m. Tuesdays at the Patricia Elmore Center, 280 Apple St. in Greenfield.