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Carving a niche: Woodcarvers from around the country gather in Sandwich

Majel Carr, of Nashville, first learned about the Gathering of Woodcarvers Woodcarving Art Festival from an ad in Woodcarvers Illustrated Magazine.

“I thought the classes sounded interesting, and it was a good chance to see Chicago, too,” Carr said. “So I hopped in the car with my wife, and we drove more than 500 miles. It’s more than a vacation – I get to meet people, see how everyone else carves and learn a thing or two.”

The Woodcarving Art Festival was held Aug. 17 through 19 at the Sandwich Fairgrounds, 1401 Suydam Road in Sandwich.

The event featured a public carving art show and sale, classes by nationally renowned instructors, carving demonstrations, door prizes and awards and tool and carving supplies available for purchase.

Classes offered included bust carving with mallet tools, power/hand carving a human bust, animal carving and painting, carving fur, hair and curly beards and a pine needle basket- making class.

The annual event is hosted by the Fox Valley Carvers and the Oswego Area Carvers with assistance from the North Suburban Carving Club.

The event started in 1998 as the Great Pig Out, a pig roast fundraiser benefitting the Boy Scouts. The next year, it transformed into a woodcarving show and was held annually until 2009. After attending a reunion event in 2013, the woodcarvers resurrected the event last year.

“I love woodcarving, I can’t seem to get enough of it, and I think most woodcarvers are the same way,” said Mike Noland, GOW’s show chairman. “We resurrected the GOW event at the beginning of 2017, and it’s been a huge success.”

About 35 students participated in this year’s event. To attend the event, students traveled from across the nation, including from Florida, Iowa, Ohio, Tennessee and Wisconsin.

Keith Radrick traveled from Ohio both this year and last year to take classes offered by Vic Hood, a woodcarver from Tennessee who was named Woodcarving Illustrated Magazine's “Woodcarver of the Year” in 2011.

“I think the talent of the instructors is bringing us to the event,” Radrick said. “The quality of the instructors is very impressive. It’s a very social atmosphere as well. You can meet others that share your hobby and interest, and you learn at the same time.”

Mike McCarthy, from Pekin, also enrolled in Hood’s carving classes both this year and last year.

“I enjoy creating and sculpting, and I’m constantly learning new techniques all the time,” McCarthy said. “I spend two to three hours a day carving, every day if I can. It’s relaxing, it’s fun and I love to whittle.”

Event attendees had various backgrounds, talents and ages: 10-year-old Matthew Sirota, of Long Grove, sat next to married couple David and Ann Abler, of Aurora, during an animal carving and painting class.

“I’ve been carving since I was 6, and my dad carves, too,” Sirota said. “It’s fun to do, and I sometimes show my friends what I’ve made. If someone hasn’t carved before, I’d say try it because it’s fun and relaxing.”

Noland said that events like GOW’s Woodcarving Art Festival are a great way for people to learn more about woodcarving.

“By attending an event like this, or one of our club meetings, you can learn more about woodcarving,” Noland said. “For under $100, you can buy some good tools and get started. Anyone can learn woodcarving, because we all were newcomers once. Woodcarvers are all very welcoming, friendly. I can’t say that I’ve met a carver I didn’t like.”

Carr said he enjoyed the event and looks forward to staying in touch with the friends he’s met.

“Normally I sit on my front porch and carve, but carving with others, around others was fun and different,” Carr said. “I’ve really enjoyed it. I also like that about 95 percent of the people are from other places. It truly is a gathering of woodcarvers, and that’s the name of the show.”

For more information about the Gathering of Woodcarvers, visit or call 630-730-3490.

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