BELTON — It all started in 1986 for Ron Perry, a retired insurance agent, now master carver.
“I picked up a piece of 2-by-2 (piece of wood) and carved a folk character and just got hooked on it,” he said.
Thirty years later, Perry is now sharing that passion with others. After being a member of the Central Texas Woodcarvers Association out of Austin for 12 years, he decided to start the Bell County Woodcarvers Association last September.
Perry is hoping to grow the organization beyond its five members and welcomes all who are interested, whether they are experienced or beginners.
“The primary reason I organized it was for retirees and people who have spare time who want to get together and develop a hobby,” Perry said. “If you’re satisfied with it, it doesn’t make a difference in what anyone else thinks.”
With a steady hand and focused eyes, Perry chiseled away at a block gradually taking the form of a bighorn sheep. Three other men sat around a table at the Belton Senior Center on Monday morning working on their own wood creations.
“You will sit down to carve and before you know it two or three hours are gone, it just flies by,” Perry said.
He is a self-taught carver who took interest after visually imagining his creations while they were still untouched blocks of wood.
“That is the trick in carving, that you can take a block of wood and you know it is in there you just have to get it out,” he said.
Different styles and pieces were scattered throughout the room including folk art, caricatures in their early stages, and ornaments of Santa Claus and snowmen. An extraordinary and almost life-sized sculpture of a bald eagle grasping a bass with one of its talons sat tall above the rest.
“Animals are the hardest thing to carve,” Perry said. “Because people know what the animal looks like so you have to replicate that.”
“I can sit here for hours and do this,” master carver Frank Turner, a retired Sante Fe Train conductor, said.
Turner is the creator of the bald eagle sculpture that took him five years to make.
“I always like to do stuff that people think you can’t do,” said Turner, who often ditches the regular wood carving tools for his go-to pocket knife.
Turner held up a polished belt buckle in the shape of a boat anchor that despite the detail was never cut and glued. It was just one smooth and continuous piece of sanded wood, showing his proficiency to the craft.
A nativity scene that newcomer Marvin Jeton made for his first project was representative of the Scandinavian flat-plane style of carving using figures with little sanding or rounding of the edges.
Jeton, who calls himself a “rookie,” slowly carved the head of a buffalo for his latest piece while taking brief pauses to converse with his friends.
“People say they couldn’t do this and I look at them and say, ‘Well, have you tried?’”
The woodcarvers meet 9-11:30 a.m. Mondays at the Belton Senior Center, 842 S. Mitchell St. There is no cost to join. Those who are interested can learn the craft from Perry of which he will furnish some tools to begin with, but said as regulars they are encouraged to purchase their own set of leather gloves, carving knives and tools.
He said very few of the members will part with their carvings, especially their first carving, which often holds sentimental value.
“There are people who do sell some of their carvings,” he said. “We were at a show in Kerrville about two years ago and a gentleman sold three birds that he carved for $22,000 … a hotel bought it to put on display.”
There is an annual show held in New Braunfels that features a week of classes and a contest.
“If you make a mistake then you can carve around it,” Jeton said. “It is only wood.”