News Christmas Carver

Christmas Carver

Christmas Carver
December 3, 2002 |

The rich smell of wood filled the air in a back room of the Chisholm Community Center in Montgomery as a dozen or so woodcarvers huddled in the corner–their eyes fixed on the delicate hands of their mentor.None seemed to notice the constant whine of her rotary tool which, for most, would have evoked frightening memories of a dentist’s drill. Instead, they squeezed ever closer, hoping to learn some of the secrets that have propelled this Alabama native to the top of the woodcarving art.”I love to teach,” said Carole Jean Boyd, her black shirt and paints speckled with sawdust. “I love seeing that light go on in somebody’s eyes when you show them something and they really get it.”On this night, Mrs. Boyd started the class with a lesson in the anatomy of the human face, as the woodcarvers worked on a likeness of Confederate Gen. J.E.B. Stuart. The master carver admits, however, that she is best known for her Santa figurines.Carved from cypress knees or small blocks of basswood, the Christmas collectibles range from small, ornament-size faces to larger pieces measuring over a foot in height. Each piece is hand-carved and painted with such detail that Mrs. Boyd said some customers initially think the colorful elves are porcelain. That detail hasn’t gone unnoticed by experts, either. Mrs. Boyd has won numerous blue ribbons at regional and national art shows, and she was recently one of 10 woodcarvers featured in a book entitled, “Carving Found Wood.”All this attention is a bit overwhelming for the 60-year-old Millbrook artist, who said she started carving about 15 years ago, following the death of her husband, David.”When my husband was living, I was a photographic artist; he was a cattleman, and in our spare time, we made soft-sculpture dolls together,” she said. “I would cut and sew the material, he would stuff them, then I would sculpt them with a needle, make the clothes and paint their faces. When he died, there were just too many memories attached to the dolls, and I couldn’t do it anymore.”Mrs. Boyd decided to sell what dolls she had left at a craft show, and as fate would have it, she was assigned a table next to a woodcarver.”He told me, ‘If you can do that, you can carve,'” Mrs. Boyd recalled.Prompted by friends who knew she needed a hobby to take her mind off David, Mrs. Boyd attended her first carving class in 1987. Though there were few women woodcarvers at that time, Mrs. Boyd soon grew to love the craft.”I really believe it saved my sanity,” she said. “When you are carving, nothing else matters. Everything else just goes away.”Mrs. Boyd’s first creations were dolls–much like sturdier, more detailed versions of the crafts she and David made. But she quickly grew tired of having to stop carving and make clothes for the dolls, so she decided to begin carving complete characters. She completed her first cypress knee figure in 1990.Having been around arts and crafts shows for several years, Mrs. Boyd knew that, if she wanted to sell her work, she would have to create pieces that were marketable. She also knew that Christmas crafts always are in demand, so she soon began carving Santas from cypress knees.Today, she also carves cowboys, mountain men, soldiers, Indians and walking sticks, but fewer and fewer are made from cypress.”It is getting difficult to get cypress knees because of environmental laws, so I find a shape I like and have ‘rough-outs’ made from basswood,” she said.Mrs. Boyd spends much of her time teaching the art of woodcarving to other artists or people simply looking for a relaxing diversion. Her classes range from the small group at the Chisholm Community Center to multi-day workshops in Texas, Oklahoma, Georgia, Connecticut and North Carolina. Eventually, she would like to expand her teaching efforts by publishing instructional books and videos. She also wants to visit Austria to study with some of the master woodcarvers there.Mrs. Boyd said her years as a photographic artist with Paul Robertson Photography and Leon Loard Portraits, both of Montgomery, prepared her for teaching woodcarving.”When I started in photographic arts, I learned the features of the human face by retouching black and white negatives,” she said. “Later, I tinted and painted photographs, first using light oils and later using heavy oils. I also traveled all over the Southeast teaching those techniques to others.”For her own work, Mrs. Boyd still uses oil paints–preferring them to the acrylic colors many carvers use. She carves using a combination of knives and power tools to create figures that combine the best characteristics of the realistic, primitive and character woodcarving genres. Her pieces range in price from $25 for small wooden Santa heads to $225 for 18-inch cypress knee Santas. She has, however, sold large pieces for as much as $1,100.Surprisingly, Mrs. Boyd said she rarely carves anything for herself. Although she gives some pieces to family and friends, Mrs. Boyd said she has to sell her creations to pay her traveling expenses and to keep food on her table.She seldom carves pieces to order, preferring instead to create pieces based on the contours and grain of the wood and her own artistic instincts.”I would really rather carve a piece, set it on the table and wait for someone to see it and fall in love with it,” she said. “I get excited when my own expressions of art please somebody.”Mrs. Boyd said carving is especially rewarding because each figure is the result of her personal vision and ability.”All of the years I worked in photography, I loved it, but it was always someone else’s work that I was painting. This is mine from start to finish,” she said.Mrs. Boyd has cast some of her more popular pieces in resin, but has resisted the temptation to commercialize her work, mainly because she hasn’t found anyone to paint the reproductions.”The only person I would trust to paint them is my daughter (Tabitha), and I can’t convince her to do it,” she said.
Mrs. Boyd has two sons, Kim and Tony; two daughters, Sasha and Tabitha; and five grandchildren, who she says are “Granny’s heart.”As for the acclaim she has received as a woodcarver, Mrs. Boyd said her destiny was shaped by a higher power–much like the Santa figures she brings to life from blocks of wood.”I believe the Lord knows how to put you in the right place at the right time in your life,” she said.For Mrs. Boyd, the “right place” was that first carving class when–like her students at Chisholm–she first felt the joy of creating a lasting work of art from a simple piece of wood. Fifteen years later, she is still passionate about woodcarving, whether she’s making a Santa or teaching others.”There’s not many days that I haven’t carved since I started, even if it is just 15 minutes at night,” she said. “It just soothes the soul.”Mrs. Boyd sells her work out of her home. Customers can call her at (334) 285-6508.

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