CONVERSE — Thinking about getting into woodcarving? If you are, Ben Cash said you’re going to need three things: a sharp knife, the right kind of wood and a big box of Band-Aids.
That’s the advice Cash has given to novice woodcarvers for the last 25 years at the Eastern Woodland Carvers Club, located in downtown Converse. He was one of the three founding members of the group, which formed in 1988.
But what started out as just a small club of about 13 members meeting in the old firehouse at Sweetser has morphed into one of the largest woodcarving clubs in the Midwest.
The group now boasts around 275 members hailing from places all over the country, and more than 40 of them turned up at the club’s headquarters Saturday to learn the art of caricature woodcarving from three carving masters.
The seminar was held on the first floor of the group’s three-story building at 101 S. Jefferson St., affectionately called the “Sears Tower of Converse” by club members, since it’s the only three-story building in town.
Starting with just a small block of wood at 9 a.m., carvers began to slowly and meticulously whittle out all kinds of cartoonish characters. By 5 p.m., the room was full of small, wooden pirates, trolls, Indians, cats, French fur traders, dogs, witches and 19th century gentlemen wearing top hats.
Gary Freeman, a club officer who’s been with the group since 1990, said the caricature carving seminar is the most popular class hosted by the club. This year, it drew members from places as far away as Texas, West Virginia, Arkansas and Missouri.
It may be the most popular event, but Freeman said it’s just one of many the club puts on every year.
The real bread and butter of the group is the weekly open carving session, where he said anywhere from 20 to 50 members and non-members meet every Tuesday to carve, talk, shoot the breeze and generally have a good time.