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Carving out a legacy

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Christmas deer ornament that he's working on for the holidays2 / 3
THIS 3-FOOT TALL CARVING OF A NATIVE AMERICAN CHIEF is one of hundreds of pieces created by Perham resident Dave Erickson in more than 20 years of woodcarving. Erickson will be among those taking part in the Lake Country Woodcarvers' Festival at the Washington Square Mall this Saturday, Nov. 13, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.3 / 3

For more than 20 years now, Dave Erickson has been taking blocks of wood and transforming them into everything from fish and duck decoys to Santa figurines and Christmas ornaments.

The workshop in the basement of his Perham home is filled with woodworking tools and paints of every description.

He has belonged to the Detroit Lakes-based Lake Country Wood Carvers group since he moved to Perham in 1997 -- and a year later, in February 1998, he started a new woodcarving group in Perham.

"We're called the Three-Fingered Carving Club," he said, adding with a smile, "Once they hear the name, nobody forgets it."

(Despite the name, most of the 16-odd members of the group are still in possession of most of their digits.)

Before they moved to Perham 13 years ago, Dave and his wife Arleen had lived on a lake in Canada for over 23 years. Eight of those years were spent owning and operating a fishing camp.

"We loved it up there," he said. "We still go back six to eight times a year, summer and winter, to visit friends. It's like going home."

Erickson, an avid fisherman, said, "We had 70 miles of water just outside our front door. I don't think I missed a bay (fishing) up there."

Next to fishing, however, woodcarving is Erickson's favorite hobby. He's not entirely sure how long he spends creating some of his carvings.

"I can do a Christmas ornament in about an hour, but for most of them, I don't keep track of the time," he said.

His greatest pleasure, Erickson added, comes from "selling an item to somebody who will put it up in their house and enjoy looking at it as much as I've enjoyed making it."

When someone orders a custom-made carving, Erickson added, he makes sure the customer is happy with the finished product -- or he'll make them a new one.

"I don't think I've ever had to do that (remake a carving)," Erickson said. But the offer still stands. "I want them to be happy with it, or I don't want them to take it home."

Of course, he also gives plenty of his carvings away as well. Erickson loves his hobby so much that he enjoys passing on that passion to others, whether it's through taking home one of his creations, or teaching them how to make their own.

"If there's one thing I hope I can pass on to others, it's the joy you can have in woodcarving," he said.

It's the kind of hobby that can be set aside and easily picked up again as time allows.

"It (the carving) will still be there waiting for you," Erickson said.

All you need is a piece of wood and some carving tools. Once you have in mind how you want your carving to look, you pick out the appropriate size of wood, "then start whittling away until you get it right."

(Wood does need to be dried until it reaches a moisture level of about 10 percent before it's ready for carving, Erickson noted.)

Sometimes two or three pieces of wood can be joined together, with glue or laminate, to form more elaborate pieces.

Once the carving is done, then you can either choose to varnish it, or paint it.

"You can take an excellent carving, paint it, and ruin the whole thing," Erickson says, adding, "I've ruined a few."

Conversely, you can also take a piece of inferior carving and give it a superior paint job, "and it'll look like a million bucks."

The trick Erickson said, is to find a balance between the two.

"When I started out, I had the biggest problem with painting -- the colors were too hard," he said.

"They didn't have the soft glow that you want."

But now, with well over 300 carvings under his belt, Erickson's work has been purchased by clients in Europe, Russia and "all across Canada," as well as the U.S.

Still, one area he hasn't explored is online sales.

"I don't market online," he said, adding, "It's a hobby. I don't want to make it a job."

Erickson will, however, be among the woodcarving artists taking part in the Lake Country Woodcarvers' annual Woodcarving Festival, set to take place this Saturday, Nov. 13, at the Washington Square Mall in Detroit Lakes.

"I'll have maybe 40 carvings there," he said. "I'll be selling as well as showing."

There will also be some carvers doing live demonstrations during the festival, which runs from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

There will be about a dozen tables set up throughout the mall, Erickson noted, and most of the participating carvers will be more than willing to answer questions about their hobby.

"I'll be there to answer any questions, give tips, and explain how I do my carving," said Erickson.

Vicki Gerdes

Staff writer at Detroit Lakes Newspapers for the past 16 years, currently editor of the entertainment and community pages as well as covering city council and the Lake Park-Audubon School Board. Living in DL with my cat, Smokey.

(218) 844-1454