Kennewick woodworkers carve themselves a niche

Two Kennewick sisters return to a regional stage for their woodcarving later this month with their exhibit at the annual Artistry in Wood.

Their love for the ancient artform is obvious because Vi Hiltwein, 82, and Ellen Berg, 80, continue to teach.

“A lot of ladies carve,” Berg said. “If you can peel a potato, you can carve.”

Detailed wood sculptures created by talented carvers in the Northwest will be on display today and Sunday during Artistry in Wood at the Tri-Tech Skills Center. The show is an annual event for the Tri-Cities Woodcarvers Club.

They have been teaching classes in Kennewick for 17 years.

“You can tell right away if someone will take to it,” Hiltwein said. “Some will stick with carving. Some find it’s not their thing.”

The talented duo took up carving in 1991 through a class at a hobby store on First Avenue in Kennewick. The store no longer exists, but they continue to serve as charter members of Tri-Cities Woodcarvers Club. The group formed in 1993 and staged its first show the next year.

Each Wednesday, about 25 gather at the Kennewick Senior Center in Keewaydin Park. Some are talented carvers who like to trade ideas and techniques, while others are novices.

The sisters also teach eight-week classes for the club two to three times a year. That group meets Fridays at the senior center. All ages are welcome, but younger students must be accompanied by a parent.

Woodcarving isn’t difficult, nor does it have to be an expensive hobby.

“You just have to be patient, have a sharp knife, use some logic and be careful. Though we seldom have to dig out a Band-Aid,” Berg said, adding that she wears a puncture resistant glove on her hand as she holds the carving.

Knives for woodcarving start around $25, though Hiltwein cautions that the lure of possessing that next, best woodcarving tool can be overwhelming.

“I still have, and use, my first knife, but I’ve bought some 40 knives since. When you see someone else carving, and they’re doing good, you think to yourself, maybe I should get that knife and give it a try. It’s like a painter never having enough paint brushes,” she said.

Both sisters prefer to use hand tools to create their carvings but do use some power tools for sanding and cutting out the rough blanks. Making blanks, trimming off excess wood so the carver can get right into the shaping and detailing keeps Berg busy in the wood shop.

Using a bandsaw or scroll saw, she knocks off the corners and cuts the board into a shape — a fish for example.

“With a carving taking anywhere from 50 hours or more, there’s no sense in wasting time just whittling. Carving the details — that’s the fun part,” Berg said.

She will have a variety of roughed out blanks to sell at the show, each packaged with a photo giving a suggestion of what the finished piece should look like.

Artistry In Wood is at the Tri-Tech Skills Center, 5929 W. Metaline Ave., Kennewick.

Show hours are from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. today and from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday. Admission is $3, and ages 12 and under are free.

To sign up for woodcarving classes, call the Kennewick Senior Center at 585-4303.

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