John Armstrong started out as a small-time crew member. First, he was taking a pocketknife to sticks. Then, instead of a single cigar box, he needed an extra-large case for his tools. Soon, he was initiated as one of them, a member of Pikes Peak Whittlers, that is.
“I kind of got hooked on what [the Pikes Peak Whittlers] were doing,” he says. “They slowly sucked me in.”
Seven years later, Armstrong has served as president, vice president, secretary and librarian for the Pikes Peak Whittlers, a local club that celebrates and promotes woodcarving in the area.
That extra-large case now holds Armstrong’s many carving tools, evidence of his passion for the craft.
“Most of us became carvers because we liked wood to begin with,” Armstrong says. “You have to work with it to learn how to do something with it.”
“When you think of whittling, there’s this image of a cowboy sitting on a front porch. There’s something to that. Carving allows you to escape for a while.”
Armstrong had made a hobby of making and playing Native American flutes when a club member discovered him and invited him to a meeting as a presenter. He’s whittled everything from sticks and gnomes to more southwest style pieces.
“You get interested in different things as you go along,” he says.
Founded in 1982, the club has around 30 active members, with between 50 and 60 in total. $20 a year gets you a family membership.
“If you show people how to carve, you’re more likely to get them to interact,” Armstrong says.
To help counter the idea that woodcarving is seen as a dying art, Armstrong says the club looks to get young people involved by showing them what can be done with wood.
“We’ll often give (kids) little knick-knacks,” he said. “And maybe a week from then, they’ll see it again and think ‘I’d like to do that.’”
But why, with all of today’s technology, pursue whittling as a hobby?
“For me, it’s the carving itself,” Armstrong says. “And if you get to a troubling place, you can show it to five or six other people and get their ideas on how to solve the problem.”
“We’re very supportive of each other. You’ll probably get more tips than you actually need.”
While some members are professionals and sell their creations, most become gifts or treasured living room accents.
No matter. It’s passion that motivates these carvers.
“Just because you can buy everything molded in plastic doesn’t mean you have to or should,” Armstrong says. “There’s a lot to be said for wood.”
The 34th edition of the club’s biggest event of the year, the annual Woodcarving and Woodworking Show, is May 20-21 at the Colorado Springs Shrine Club on the west side of town. Around 45 woodcarvers will be there, mostly local carvers but with some from other parts of Colorado and surrounding states, displaying their efforts with some pieces for sale, but that’s just the tip of the chisel, so to speak. Outside vendors will have books and equipment for carving while a professional woodcarver will adjudicate competitions in over 20 categories and Best in Show (along with Carvers Choice and Public Choice), add to that contests and activities for the the whole family, too.
“It’s really one of our ways to interact with the public, for people to come through and see what we’re doing,” Armstrong says.
34th Annual Woodcarving and Woodworking Show; Colorado Springs Shrine Club, 6 S. 33rd St., May 20 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; May 21 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. $3 for adults, $2 for seniors (65+) and military, Free for children under 12 with a paid adult admission.
Originally written by Jonathan Toman of the Cultural Office and published in the Colorado Springs Independent Blog on May 3, 2017.