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HOBBIES : Sharpening Their Skills : Woodcarvers' works range from mice to bedroom sets. Group passes on techniques at adult school classes.

August 04, 1995|REBECCA HOWARD | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; Rebecca Howard writes regularly for The Times

Enrique Madrigal has spent a year, off and on, with his golden eagle, painstakingly creating the bird's head in such intricate detail that each feather is individually etched. A final realistic touch was recently added--amber-colored eyes set within the jelutong wood.

Most of Madrigal's woodcarving subjects are animals or wildlife. He has just finished a bucking horse from basswood and is at work on a small mahogany buffalo. He said he enjoys the challenge of carving because he must study and learn about an animal to understand it before replicating it.

Madrigal, who lives in San Fernando, is a member of the Santa Clarita Valley chapter of the California Woodcarvers Guild, which meets weekly. The local chapter, formed in 1978, offers classes for beginners through the Golden Oak Adult School in Santa Clarita in 10-week sessions--usually held in the woodworking shop at Sierra Vista Junior High in Canyon Country. Students begin by whittling a boot or shoe from a plank of basswood or sugar pine.

A part of the group for about three years, Pinkie and Frank Matthews Newhall like the little things in woodcarving. Frank, a former aircraft engineer, said smaller woodcarving projects are easier for him because he has arthritis. He has created mice, carousel horses, miniature furniture and pins (one, a detailed face of a pet cat that Pinkie wears on her shirt).

Pinkie's latest artistic efforts have been to carve "love spoons" with elaborate designs on the handles, such as a butterfly. The name derives from a Scandinavian tradition: An unwed woman would hang a spoon in the window to let suitors know of her availability.

Other woodcarvers have worked on nearly life-sized projects. Bill Ward, a charter member of the group, has done a design for the front of a church pulpit, an adult bedroom set, 50-inch-tall kachinas--figures from Native American folklore--and, for a music-loving friend who had a stroke, a wooden cane engraved with delicate bars of music spiraling its length.

Ward has given most of his work to family or friends. A serious woodcarver since about 1977, he first carved figures out of wood chips for his daughters, then young, during family trips to Yosemite, and later worked as a woodcarver for Six Flags Magic Mountain in Valencia. "I just like to play," he said.

Some carvers stick to knives, while others also use an electric "Dremel" tool, Ward said.

"The motor tools can speed up the process," said Dave Stanton of Canyon Country, an instructor with the group. "There are purists who say it's got to be done with a knife. Others say the best way is the quickest way."

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He said the lessons are apt to be quite informal. "Some people never make it past the boot, but that's OK. We don't cost a lot. It's a chance to learn to do something you've never done before."

Each 10-week session is only $5, and club members pay an annual membership fee of $12. Students don't have to become members to take lessons.

Bruce Wilkie of Canyon Country started attending sessions in the spring and went on to work on a detailed relief of a young woman.

"The sessions are good because I can wander around and ask the others, 'How did you do that?' " Wilkie said. "It's also very relaxing--good therapy."

Some work on their projects outside class. Ron Thompson of Valencia, who carves and paints wildlife, took about 200 hours to complete a Carolina wood duck. When a woman criticized a red-breasted nuthatch he'd carved as having too much red, Thompson told her, "That's how I see it."

That individual vision is what makes woodcarving an ideal art, said Dave Lopez, a carver from Santa Clarita. "Often you look for something that may already be in the wood, and you bring it back out of the wood," he said.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

WHERE AND WHEN

What: Santa Clarita Valley Chapter of the California Woodcarvers Guild.

Location: Varies.

Hours: 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Tuesdays.

Price: $5 for 10-week class; $12 annual membership fee.

Call: Golden Oak Adult School, (805) 253-0583, or Bill Ward, (805) 251-4064.

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