Moose Lake Star Gazette - Serving Carlton and Pine Counties Since 1895

By A. R. Vander Vegt
Moose Lake Star-Gazette 

Joy in creating, joy in learning


December 6, 2018

A. R. Vander Vegt

Sometimes our hobbies choose us, we don't choose them.

"I saw a Santa Claus in a wood magazine and wanted one."

Sometimes our hobbies turn into much more than a simple hobby. They turn into expression, into a form of meditation.

"I like creating something."

Janie Telker is sitting on a chair in a corner room of her Moose Lake home. Outside, the snow is blowing around, but it's cozy inside and fragrant. Jasper the cat is prowling around, and Janie sometimes shoos him away from the wood shavings gathering under her work station.

Janie is a worker at the pharmacy by day, a wood carver by night - or, rather, a wood carver on other days she's not working.

"You don't want to be fatigued when carving, because that's when you cut yourself." As a rule, she doesn't carve when especially stressed, either. Wood carving takes attention, dedication.

It's been over 30 years since Janie saw that Santa Claus in the magazine. She recalls how it was so expensive, so she decided she wanted to make one instead. That year for Christmas, she got a wood carving kit with Warren tools.

She chuckles when she brings out that very first piece, calling it primitive. She points out the general squareness, sort of cubist in its construction.

From there, her hobby took off.

She started taking classes when she could, going to workshops, picking up tips, learning from others. "If you pick up one thing from every instructor," she says, "it's worth it."

Before wood carving, Janie did a lot of folk art painting. Her experience with painting has served her well in her wood carving endeavors.

"I'm fortunate to have the background in paint ... I get a nicer finished product," she says. She explains that other wood carvers may carve beautifully, but sometimes their paint job detracts rather than adds to their pieces.

Janie says she likes carving Santa Claus and animals - often the two come together in her pieces. Just like the various wood blocks she carves from, each iteration comes out unique and beautiful of its own accord. Teddy bears carried by Santa, Santa with deer, standalone bears and wolves - these are the figures populating one of Janie's shelves. She says they're not quite done; she's gotten a bit behind on painting, but their craftsmanship is unmistakable.

We talk about the piece she's working on that day. She says she's spent plenty of time on this rascal. It's a Santa piece, and on his back, he carries a pack of teddy bears. Those bears, she says with a low chuckle, gave her a run for the money. They took awhile to get satisfactory.

Not only did she carve each individual bear, but she uses a wood burner to enhance the fur texture - a beautiful effect. She talks about what she plans to do with Old Saint Nick's hands. In one hand, she plans to craft a staff. In the other, she had considered a lantern. "But a lantern is sort of too old world," she says. The teddy bears give him a whimsical aura; a lantern would disrupt that. "I think I'm going to do a basket instead."

She crafts her pieces simply from what she would enjoy to make or see. Each piece starts from a hunk of wood she gets from a supplier down in Forest Lake. Sometimes, though, she does use a "roughed out" piece, which gives the basic shape.

Janie also does relief pieces and has sold some of them. In her workspace, two are hanging up.

As she works on her Santa, she describes wood cutting as a strategic thing. "You have to plan ahead a little bit, because once the wood is gone, it's gone." So far, her mind has guided her fairly well when she carves. She does hope to do a more complicated piece, though, which she intends to experiment with using clay before carving.

Typically Janie listens to audiobooks while carving. She's currently listening to Outlander, a historical romance, she says - a divergent choice from her normal selection. She says crime novels are her favorite to listen to, John Sandford and Brian Freeman being frequent suspects.

How does she know when a piece is done?

"They get to be like your children, and they're hard to give up," she says in response. There's always something you find to improve upon after you've completed a piece. "It's a lot of monkey business. ... At some point, you have to say it's done."

A. R. Vander Vegt

Janie Telker wood carves in her spare time, creating intricate figurines.

Right now, she doesn't actively market her pieces. She has sold a couple when people have asked, but pricing is a hard thing, especially when considering the amount of work that goes into each one. "I would have a hard time not putting so much work into it."

In the future, though, she hopes to spend more time wood carving. She looks to retirement with an eager eye for that reason. She mentions a group of guys who meet in Sturgeon Lake to wood carve, about a half dozen people. They get together for fun. She's gone a couple times, but constraints on her time right now means she can't consistently go.

But she does enjoy carving in her space. It relaxes her, she says. "It's not boring, carving. You're always learning something, ... how the wood turns," her voice trails off as she puts the blade to the wood, another piece curls up and falls to the floor.


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