Merced woodcarving group finds joy in creating works of art

Jill Mayer, a retired Merced College instructor and former Merced County Sheriff’s Department sergeant, has been a woodworker most of her adult life.
Jill Mayer, a retired Merced College instructor and former Merced County Sheriff’s Department sergeant, has been a woodworker most of her adult life. bahbeck@mercedsunstar.com

Woodcarving is not only a centuries-old form of artistic expression – it’s relaxing, too.

About a dozen woodcarvers meet weekly at the Merced Senior Community Center to share their love of whittling and chiseling. A miniature dachshund, a section of chain, an ornamental clock and birds are some of the recent handiwork from members of the Merced Woodcarvers group.

“I love wood,” said Jill Mayer of Merced. “I’ve been a woodworker most of my adult life. I like animals and caricatures, and probably have 20 unfinished things in progress.”

The retired Merced College instructor and former Merced County Sheriff’s Department sergeant said there are many advantages to carving objects from wood.

It can be relaxing and challenging, too.

“It’s almost meditative when you’re doing it,” Mayer, 71, said. “You can lose track of time when you’re doing it. It’s one more cut, one more cut.”

She started coming to the woodcarvers’ group last June and said carvers are friendly and welcoming.

Armand Choquette of Merced said woodcarvers do three types of carving. There’s “in the round,” which involves three-dimensional representations of people or animals. Or one can do two-dimensional relief carving or chip carving, where decorative pieces are fashioned.

Choquette said the local group started about 20 years ago. There is no charge to join the group, but members must provide their own tools and materials. They meet from 12:30 to 2:30 p.m. on Tuesdays at the West 15th Street community center.

Mayer’s brother, David Norris of Merced, said working with wood is therapeutic. He retired last July as a nurse practitioner at the Merced County Jail and said he’s the newest member of the carvers’ group. He has crafted several links of what will ultimately become a chain.

“I did this (carving) as a kid,” Norris, 63, said. “It’s not just making something. The process is fun. I’m the apprentice and just getting started. I’m still trying to figure it out.”

Leroy Metz of Merced has been carving for 13 years. He just finished a clock made from butternut. It’s an ornamental living room clock, with leaves made from wood surrounding its round center. The elaborate timepiece model took him about 40 hours, stretched over five days, to finish.

Metz said he has created hundreds of 16-inch 50th-anniversary wedding platters. Most of his carving is done with large chisels and a mallet, while many in the group use sharp knives for their creations.

Basswood is the material of choice for most carvers.

“It’s very relaxing,” Metz, 77, said. “There’s a sense of accomplishment, I guess, when you’re finished.”

He also belongs to the Northern California RV Carvers, a group of carving enthusiasts who meet somewhere in Northern California each month to share their love of woodworking for three or four days at a time.

Choquette, a retired physician, guesses he has carved 40 to 50 cowboy figures, busts and clown figures. He has been carving since 1995 and makes toys as Christmas gifts for the Toys for Tots drive.

Tim Dyke, 66, of Atwater also has been a woodcarver for nearly 20 years; he has created miniature ducks and chickadees, along with sailing ships. When they are done, he details and paints some of the features.

“It’s really just something that has fascinated me,” said Dyke, a retired retail supervisor who admits to being fairly meticulous about what he does.

Metz said many people will look at one of his creations – over the years he has fashioned several hundred Santa Claus figures – and observe they have no patience for such projects. But if you’re having fun carving, he stressed, patience isn’t a factor.