Carving and Camaraderie

Senior woodworking group creates whimsical art and lasting friendships.
Larry Carlson creating one of his whimsical pieces.

“I saw an ad in the [local newspaper] on September 11, 2001, that they were starting up a wood carving club over at the senior center, so I decided to check it out,” says Larry Carlson, member of the 9/11 Wood Carvers club, as he reminisces about how the 13-year-old organization got its start.

On what is one of the most significant dates in our country’s history, there was a retired priest looking to share his enjoyment of wood carving with fellow retirees. The priest had no idea how to go about teaching or instructing the men on how to carve wood, but just wanted to get something started. Carlson was one of the first men through the door, and as the events unfolded across the U.S., a name for their organization was born: 9/11 Wood Carvers.

“The priest actually carved during his employment and that’s why he put an ad in the [newspaper],” Carlson says. “It was an opportunity for men like me to try something new and have some fun. The priest ended up quitting abruptly, so I kind of took over, and we have been going strong ever since.”

On average, about 15 to 16 men, out of a total of 25 members, show up each week to the White Bear Area Senior Center on Wednesday mornings to share what they are working on, sip some coffee, and help solve the world’s problems through laughter and witty banter. What they carve from the wood is quite amazing.

“I mostly carve caricatures from pictures and things I see in magazines,” Carlson says, of his carvings that boast lifelike faces, complete with hats, pipes, bowties and other creative embellishments. “But for a lot of the guys, they are working on Scandinavian flat-plane carving where they simply carve figures out of the wood. Most of them make farmers, but there is a lot of variety that comes with this craft.”

In Scandinavian flat-plane woodcarving, the finished products rarely have any sanding done to them. What you see are the intricate curves and edges from the knife used to create the figure. It is a time-consuming activity, but the results are worth the work.

“I’d say it takes most of the guys about a week to finish a project. Me, on the other hand, I spent about two months working on” one particular project. Carlson says. “I wasn’t strictly working on it, but it was one of those projects I just had to get done and it took longer than expected.”

One man at the organization actually carves out corks for wine bottles in the shapes of Minnesota Twins players and other characters. He even has a display of World War II soldiers in cork form.

The works of art created aren’t just for their own personal enjoyment. Many of the men enter their products into contests and different wood carving shows.

“Some of the guys sell their stuff for around $20, but I like to enter my items into different contests at the Ramsey County Fair and the Minnesota State Fair,” says Carlson. “I’ve even won a few ribbons. And some of the guys have gained first-place ribbons for years. They are really good.”

With 13 years in the books, Carlson can’t help but look back and see how far everyone has come. “It’s kind of fun,” he says. “I never knew any of these guys when we first started, but now we’ve gotten to be good friends and give each other a hard time about our carvings. It’s a great place to be.”


Interested in joining?

9/11 Wood Carvers
White Bear Area Senior Program
2484 E. County Road F
White Bear Lake
Wednesdays, 9–11 a.m.