35 years of woodcarvings
One group of exhibitors at the Steele County Free Fair is not interested in winning ribbons. They are the woodcarvers who bring their works to the fair simply to display them to the public.
The Woodcarving Department first appeared at the fair 35 years ago, and Stephanie Kolbe, the department superintendent, has been involved the entire time.
Kolbe is both a woodcarver and a painter, she said, and over the years she has come to specialize in very detailed carvings of game birds and songbirds.
The first couple years, she said, the display was in a building near the livestock barns. With no glass cases to protect the carvings they were totally in the open, she said, meaning someone had to physically be at the site every hour the building was open. That proved to be impractical and the display was moved and now has a permanent home in the Fine Arts Building.
Woodcarving knows no ages, she said, with this year’s display showing works from carvers in their early teens to those in their 80s. It also knows no gender, she said, as there are both men and women displaying their carvings.
Early on, she said, participants decided they did not want the Woodcarving Department to be competitive but rather simply a venue to display their creations. Some carvers, who prefer the more competitive aspects of the fair, do enter their works in the Hobby Department.
Participants can show as many carvings as possible in any of the many varieties of style. Some, she said, are finished projects, while others will be shown in various stages of completion.
Kolbe, who is also a painter, said she first became involved with woodcarving in the early 80s when she took a class through community education taught by Harry Arndt.
At first, she said, she concentrated on game birds such as ducks. In addition to ducks, she said, she also did carved dolls. The first carved doll she made she gave to her mom as a Christmas present. The present to her dad that year was a carved wood duck.
Later, while attending a Minnesota Wildlife Artists show in Minneapolis, she saw how many people were gravitating to carvings of songbirds and decided to give it a try.
Today, she concentrates on songbirds and still does dolls.
There are actually several different types of carvings on display, all using a variety of saws, knives, chisels and techniques.
Kolbe, for example, needs to be very detailed when creating her songbirds. Each feather, she said, is individually burned into the wood. Since the legs of the songbirds are too thin to be carved, Kolbe said, they are fashioned out of thin wires. For the game birds, since they are carved as if in the water, no legs are needed and they can have a flat bottom.
For the other woodcarvers, she said, some do caricatures, some do reliefs, some use lots of detail while others keep their carvings to the basics. Some paint their works and some do not.
On display this year are a variety of carved Santas, gnomes, people, birds, animals and spoons.
The display is located along one wall in the Fine Arts Building and will be open daily during the fair.