Woodcarvers / Audience Stay Sharp

Photo by Lucinda Berry
Ron Porter’s Boots Production. Photo by Lucinda Berry. Copyright by artist.

Determining the boundaries among art, craft and decoration involves personal taste and assumptions about intentions in a way that makes it inherently subjective. However, no matter how you might label their work, you couldn’t help but agree that John Hemminghouse, Tom Makosky and Ron Porter, three local woodcarvers, enjoy the process of creating.

…this showed they know a lot about the art of story-telling, which adds the kind of value you simply can’t measure.

They spoke on November 6th at Westminster Village as part of the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at Indiana State University to an engaged and knowledgeable audience of about 65, mostly senior, members of the Terre Haute community.

The carvers, also seniors, spoke informally about how they had learned the various techniques they use to produce a three-dimensional representation of their ideas. Any pause was seen by the audience as an opportunity to ask a question, so the format was more a discussion than a lecture.  Clearly, those in attendance took the idea of lifelong learning as more than a slogan.

Makosky makes decorative plaques that might be hung or used as coasters, and boxes with intricate geometric designs inspired by nature. Irregular pebbles in a creek bed might become an oval motif. Were he to be represented by a pretentious gallery somewhere, his artist statement might include a discussion of how his designs represent the cosmic order of the universe. We both laughed when I suggested this description.

Porter passed around several shoes he’s carved, some from wood and others from a kind of industrial strength foam. It was like examining work left by the elves in the fairy tale about the old shoemaker. Porter has clearly captured the essence of the traditional work boot; his carved versions range from half of a pair just off the shelf to one lost or discarded and discovered sodden in a stream. Porter also carves pocketknives with blades that open and close, but had none to show since he’d recently given away his last one.

The same generosity was shown by Hemminghouse. One of the works he displayed was a large plaque he had made to mark a friend’s house number. A mother robin alights atop the number; a nest with her brood sits awaiting her attention below it. Hemminghouse joked that because his friend had not put the work to its intended use – instead displaying it in the living room on an easel – he’d had to also give her a photograph to put outside by the front door.

Poking gentle fun at each other and making self-deprecating remarks as they discussed their own work, these carvers showed none of the ego you might see in folks represented by big city art galleries. Rather than indicating a less than art-worthy status for their work, this showed they know a lot about the art of story-telling, which adds the kind of value you simply can’t measure.

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