For about 25 years, Gary Hawthorne has been taking pieces of wood and bringing them to life, carving detail-rich walking sticks and small figures of animals and people.
Each of the walking sticks he creates includes the face of an old man with a beard, a kind of trademark that Hawthorne says “just came to me.” Figures, many small enough to fit in your hand, crowd a bookshelf in Hawthorne’s basement.
There’s a rustic feel to the figurines, a warm hominess conveyed in everyday items like a shoe and wooden spoons. A bear (made from a piece of wood Hawthorne found in Oregon), a man’s face and a man playing the banjo all seem to exude their own personalities.
For Hawthorne, carving is therapeutic.
“It’s just a hobby of mine, and whenever I have an urge, I do it,” he says.
Hawthorne began woodcarving when he heard, through word of mouth, about a group of men getting together to carve. Individuals interested in learning the craft were welcome, so Hawthorne gave it a try and joined the group, which met at Perry High School.
Today, he still meets every Wednesday through the fall and winter with a friend to carve. Hawthorne, who taught at Perry High School for 27 years, has a key to the wood shop, and that’s where the two work on their projects.
He’s carved hundreds of pieces over the years, Hawthorne guesses. Most of them are done freehand, but sometimes he’ll use patterns or a pictures. Sometimes he’ll paint and varnish the carvings. Family and friends have been the recipients of many of his creations.
Hawthorne’s workspace, in a corner of his basement, is unencumbered and tidy. A sheet beneath the chair he sits on catches the wood pieces. His tool box holds chisels and knives of different sizes, as well as files.
Walking sticks take about three days to make, while the little figures take much longer because of the detail involved. Capturing facial expressions is one of the most difficult things about carving, he says, and took a lot of practice.
“There are sometimes I’d go up to the high school and take all winter to finish one,” Hawthorne says of the figurines.