This year's major carving project tackled by the Thunder Bay Woodcarvers started out unceremoniously enough. Someone saw a finished piece they liked gracing the cover of an old carving magazine, and the rest of the group then agreed to try their hand at making it.
Now the club is an estimated two month's away from completing that project an impressive handcarved Viking head that when completed, will find a home at Posen High School.
"At first we were going to make a masthead for a ship," said member Ike Ilsley. "But things happen and things evolve. It's put together by committee."
News Photo by Diane Speer
Thunder Bay Woodcarvers member Ike Ilsley works on a Viking figure that, when completed, is being presented to Posen High School since their school mascot is a Viking.
Though club members gather weekly at the Besser Museum to work on projects of their own, they also come together to create a major piece each year that sometimes gets raffled or auctioned off to benefit the museum and sometimes ends up being incorporated into the museum's public spaces.
Past efforts of the group have included a giant-sized Big Bird and a rocking horse, both of which are currently put to use in a small children's area of the museum. Members also several years ago completed an impressive muskie that became a part of a lower level exhibit celebrating fishing in Northeast Michigan.
Among pieces that have been auctioned off by the woodcarvers are two elaborate carousel horses, a chess set and a totem pole. The totem pole was purchased by Perch's IGA, where the piece currently is installed outdoors.
When the group started their current project, they didn't really know where it would end up.
"We were wondering what we were going to do with it and then we figured we should give it to Posen since they are the only school in the area with Vikings as their mascot," said member Jerry Gilmore.
As for the school's take on this unexpected gift, according to social studies teacher Kristin Werth, everyone is extremely excited to be on the receiving end of the club's generosity.
"We are so excited to be given the opportunity to have this piece," Werth said. "We're looking at re-doing our school entryway and feel that this might be a focal point. It's representative of the community and is being given by a community organization."
Werth said students at the school are now debating what name to give the Viking head, with Thor being the most popular choice of the moment.
"We've seen pieces the woodcarvers have done before, and it's just a fabulous gift," she said.
When completed, the Viking head will be made of varnished basswood.
"Basswood is the carver's choice of wood," said member Bob Buchner. "It's close grained, light and soft. In most wood you get really strong annual rings, but you don't find that on basswood. It's usually pretty uniform in appearance."
The club actually started on the piece last winter, and different members work on it as they feel inspired.
"We've got lots of patience as long as we've got lots of coffee," said member Will Genschaw.
Presently, there are about 15 members in the club lead by President Howard Lahti. The club has been in existence since 1993-94.