Monday, July 30, 2012

Each carving is a journey


“When you finish a carving, that’s the destination,” said Mertz who retired in 2006 as the pastor of the Wilmington, Ohio, First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). “The journey is when you are carving a project. When you finish a project, you want to carve another one. Each carving is a learning experience because wood carving is learning by doing. The more you carve, the better you carve.”

Mertz said that, as a pastor and preacher, words have always fascinated him.  “I like a play on words,” he explained. “I say ‘would be carvers would be carvers if they would carve wood’. The more you do, the better you do. There are no mistakes in woodcarving, only learning experiences.”

Mertz started out carving as a boy growing up on the farm.

“Every boy had a pocket knife,” he said. “I would whittle. It wasn’t until the 1970s I met a woodcarver who taught me the ABCs and the 1-2-3s of carving. I’ve been carving seriously since 1975.”

Mertz said he primarily uses a knife for his carving although he uses other tools such as gougers, V tools and chisels. He wears a carving glove on his right hand and thumb guards on both hands.

He prefers to carve in the round, carving the front, back and sides. He enjoys carving miniatures and human figurines rather than animals or birds. Most of his figures are six inches tall or smaller. He said the advantage of carving smaller figures is that it requires removing less wood and he can get to the finished design earlier.

“I primarily carve men’s faces rather than female faces because the female faces have softer lines and curves,” he said. “The men’s faces lend themselves to carving hard lines, angles and planes. My subjects are  usually cowboys, hobos, clowns, old geezers, monks, gnomes and Santas.”

Asked if he had a favorite subject over the years, he said, “My favorite is the one I’m working on at the time.”

Mertz said he believes we all have the creative spark within us but it has to be encouraged and set free. “Some people call it talent but not everyone has been encouraged to develop their talent,” he said.

Mertz said there are many people who are interested in learning to carve.

“They take a beginners class and they think, in a day or two, they can carve. People ask me how long it takes to carve a small figure. I tell them it takes 35 years to learn and eight hours to do it. You have to grow into carving. Once people begin the creative process, it grows. People who get captured by carving can’t get to sleep without thinking about it.”

He believes the developing woodcarver begins to notice things and see things differently. They begin to study faces, scenes from nature, how a tree looks.

“You notice how the wind twisted the tree,” said Mertz. “You notice the texture of rocks or an old wooden fence post. The process is to open up the block of wood, to allow your imagination to have a mental picture of the subject you want to carve. A mental image will often allow the image to appear in the wood.”

Mertz said that with any hobby or activity, the hobby should choose you rather than you choosing the hobby.

“You try something and see if you like it,” he said. “If you do, there’s nothing else you can do but to continue with it.”

For those interested in pursuing carving as a hobby, Mertz suggested taking a carving class or joining a local woodcarving group. Clinton County Woodcarvers meet the second Tuesday night of each month from   7 to 9 p.m. at the Senior Citizen Center, 789 North Nelson Avenue, Wilmington, Ohio.

“Everyone is welcome and invited,” said Mertz. “There are also carving clubs in Middletown and Cincinnati. Dayton has a big club. We don’t teach children because of the liability. They don’t have the hand-to-eye coordination yet and they end up cutting themselves.”

The Clinton County Woodcarvers participate, demonstrate and show their woodcarvings in the 4-H Building at the Clinton County Corn Festival. The festival is held September 7-9 at the Clinton County Fairgrounds, 958 West Main Street.

To encourage other carvers, Mertz keeps a diary of his journey in woodcarving on his educational and informative blog,

Mertz does not sell his woodcarvings through his website or on eBay but at woodcarving shows and by word of mouth. Occasionally he does a private commission.

An outstanding woodcarving show is the Artistry in Wood Show, November 10-11, 2012 at the Dayton Airport Expo Center. Woodcarvings and woodworking projects are displayed by over 200 artists from the United States and Canada. Competition entries are also on display with many carvings for sale.

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