Gerard Holinde never considered himself artistic, but with some encouragement from members of the local woodcarving club the Great Bend man has become an award-winning craftsman in just three years. In November he entered several pieces in the 33rd annual Kaw Valley Woodcarving Show at Topeka and came back with seven ribbons: two for first-place, two for second place, one for third place and two honorable mentions.
More than 72 tables featured artists from several states, including Nebraska, Oklahoma, Texas, Colorado and North Dakota, according to an article in the Topeka Capital-Journal. About 700 people visited the show.
Most evenings, after coming home from his work in the oil field, Holinde relaxes with his hobby. He and his wife Marilyn cleared a room in the basement so he could have space to work. Shelves that don’t hold tools and supplies are filled with carved cowboys, hobos, Santas and other figures.
“I can’t even draw a stick man,” Holinde said. But about three years ago, Barry Bowers invited him to check out the Golden Belt Woodcarvers club that meets from 7-9 p.m. every Thursday at the Great Bend Senior Center. Soon he was learning the basics from more experienced carvers who are happy to share their knowledge and tools with newbies.
“We have some very talented people in the club,” Holinde said. “There are far better carvers than me.”
His first project was a Santa head. After that, he started carving roughouts – unfinished pieces that serve as patterns for carvers to complete and personalize. And now he’s coming up with his own ideas and designs.
Projects start with a small block of basswood and an idea.
“There’s something in every block of wood; all you have to do is bring it out,” Holinde said. The advice he learned and now shares is, “Don’t be afraid to try things. What starts out as firewood can always end up as firewood.”
Bowers said fellow carvers are excited about Holinde’s success at the Topeka show.
“Gerard did a great job showing in Topeka and we’re proud of his results,” Bowers said. “Hopefully his efforts in Topeka will inspire others in our local group to do shows in the future.”
Bowers would also like to encourage more people take up carving – or at least give it a try. The Golden Belt Woodcarvers has about 26 members and all levels of carving skill.
“Like most hobbies, it’s mostly about wanting to give it a try and hanging in there as you learn,” he said. “There are many different styles of carving so it takes a little exposure before you figure out what style fits you best.
“Our local carving group really helps that process,” Bowers continued. “We carve every Thursday evening at the Great Bend Senior Center unless it is a holiday. The group is very open to new carvers or guests. We try to work one on one with new carvers to help them get a feel for technique and expose them to different styles. From there they can take off in the style they want to try. I think you become a better carver faster because of that group support rather than trying to learn on your own.”
Holinde said the Golden Belt Woodcarvers is one of the most easy-going clubs around. The dues are $25 a year, but visitors are welcome to come a few times and see if carving is something they’re interested in. And before investing in expensive tools, they can use some of the basic tools owned by the club. Sometimes there are classes for beginners, and the club tries to bring in a professional carver at least once a year to conduct a seminar. Last year’s seminar was led by caricature carver Chris Hammack of Stephenville, Texas.
This August, the club will host a two-day class with Harley Schmitgen, another well-known carver from Reeds Spring, Mo.
“He is a member of the Caricature Carvers of America and has a unique style of realistic/caricature style carving,” Bowers said.
Works by Holinde and other members of the Golden Belt Woodcarvers are sometimes displayed at local venues such as the Great Bend Public Library, and can be viewed and purchased in the gift shop of the Kansas Wetlands Education Center.