Group carves out wooden art and fellowship

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Members of the Monona Wood Carving Group include (left to right) Elmer Marting, Bob Moses, Ron Kaiser, Bob Drahn, Bob Griffith, Lawrence Schneider, David Scott and Stan Blair. The group meets every Tuesday, from 1 to 4 p.m., in the Marting Wood Carving Room at the Monona Historical Museum. (Photos by Audrey Posten)

Bob Drahn shows off a wooden chain in the process of being carved.

Bob Moses works with fellow carvers in the Marting Wood Carving Room.

Carvings by Bob Drahn

Carvings by Stan Blair

Carvings by Elmer Marting

By Audrey Posten, North Iowa Times Editor

“Wood is so fascinating.”

Take it from Bob Drahn. Wood carving steadily since 1992, when he retired from the soil conservation service, he’s completed 500 to 600 carvings over the years. 

Many were crafted in the cozy confines of the Marting Wood Carving Room in the Monona Historical Museum, where, in 2007, he and fellow carving enthusiasts Elmer Marting and Marvin Miller formed the Monona Wood Carving Group.

As the three continued to meet every Tuesday afternoon, they began to attract other local carvers, as well as an audience.

Some, said Marting, who’s been carving since the 1950s, merely wanted to see how carving is done. Others picked up an interest, eventually purchasing carving tools and joining the group in the enjoyment of wood carving.

“It’s a really good hobby,” said Drahn. “In reality, most everyone can carve. It just takes time.”

Today, the Monona Wood Carving Group draws both male and female carvers, ranging in age from 15 to 91, who travel from throughout northeast Iowa and southwest Wisconsin to hone their skills and socialize with one another.

“People are welcome to come in any time and sit and watch and ask questions,” Marting said. “Each one of us does something different.”

When people show an interest, Marting said they’re allowed to try different types of carvings, beginning with chip carving, which is a decorative type of carving.

This helps them learn how to hold the knife, as well as how it should be angled, he explained.

“As a person progresses, we get into more details of the tools,” he shared. “There are many types of tools and manufacturers, and each tool has a certain function.”

Next, carvers learn how to make lines, which is no easy task.

“You also have to learn how to carve without chipping the wood up,” Marting noted.

Eventually, participants move on to other carving types, such as relief carving, which depicts a scene on a flat board. Caricature carvings, representing human figures, are popular, as well. The list goes on: animal carving, bark carving, incise carving, acanthus carving and more. 

The Marting Wood Carving Room, where the group works, is home to the world’s largest known collection of handmade chains, so it’s no surprise that many members enjoy chain carving.

As carvers progress, they also learn more about the types of wood.

“I love to work with wood. I love what you can do with it,” Drahn said. “There are so many grains. Every knife stroke gives you almost a different piece of wood.”

“The wood’s the boss,” commented Bob Griffith, of Elkader, a more recent member of the group. “You learn by doing.”

If a carver has an idea, Griffith encourages them to go for it.

“Their guidelines help you get where you want to go,” he said, referencing Marting’s and Drahn’s guidance.

Instructions aren’t just provided for new members, though. Marting said refresher classes are offered, and instructors have even been brought in to speak about tool sharpening and the types of carving.

“Carving is not only enjoyable,” he remarked, “it’s an ongoing learning process.”

If you would like to learn more about the Monona Wood Carving Group, visit the Monona Historical Museum on South Egbert Street (across from the city park) on Tuesday afternoons, from 1 to 4 p.m. Afterward, carvers enjoy refreshments and an “intellectual hour.”

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