I stopped by the Summerville Farmer’s Market on Oct. 26 as it had been some time since I had done so. There I met Nate Parr at his own arts table. I immediately got a real kick out of the expressive wooden carved characters lined up on his table. His talent is readily apparent and so I thought this would be a nice pre-Holiday interview. A native of West Virginia, Nate now calls Summerville his home.
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Regan: Nate, you’ve been doing wood carving art since you were about how old? You began through whittling. Explain this art and how you learned it (self-taught or did your dad or another person teach you)?
Parr: I have been carving since I was in the Boy Scouts at about age 12. I didn’t really get interested until my mid-30s. I began to buy and read books about carving and started doing some rough carvings of animals and such. I have mostly been self-taught except for some classes with great character carvers.
R: Is this a rare type of art? It must certainly be one of the oldest traditional art forms, right?
P: Carving has been around since the beginning of recorded time. Carvings are definitely a dying art and character carving is rare amongst carvers.
R: You carve small creations all the way up to 6’ tall chainsaw carvings? It must get more difficult the larger the item? Is there a certain type of wood you prefer to work with?
P: The smaller the piece, the harder it is to carve. As with most things, the devil is in the details, so the smaller it is, the harder it is to carve detail. Chainsaw carving has become for me an outgrowth of the hand carvings. I do hand carvings almost exclusively in basswood. Basswood is native to everywhere, but the wood I use comes from Wisconsin. It is the same tree with only a shorter growing season, thus allowing the tree to grow slower with a tighter grain and whiter wood. The tight grain is easier to carve and doesn’t chip or crack. The true secret in wood carving is to have sharp tools.
R: Did you go to school for art? Do you think many who Parwork with wood (ex: a finished carpenter), could have an eye for this type of artwork due to the intricacies involved?
P: I have a bachelor’s degree in Art from Columbus College of Art and Design although I actually majored in industrial design and advertising. I have always been drawn to woodworking and have built many pieces of furniture including designing and building a canoe. However, hand wood carving is my true passion. The caricature carving does need a certain knowledge of anatomy. I teach carving and have discovered that many students struggle with the concept of 3D. Carving is just sculpture in wood.
R: Have you taught this art form to anyone? How long does a given piece take between carving and painting it?
P: I have taught carving to high school students, Boy Scouts and the public through Woodcraft Stores. The typical time needed is not a standard thing as it is usually determined by the amount of detail needed regardless of size. I try not to do a lot of heavy painting on my carvings. I use acrylic paint thinned down to a wash so the wood grain still shows through.
R: What’s the most popular character you create?
P: The most popular items I carve by far are the Santas. Santa collectors are attracted to my carving because every carving is unique and cannot be bought at Walmart.
R: Are you doing any holiday craft fairs, art shows or exhibits? What’s next for you? How can people get in contact with you if they’re interested in your work?
P: This past May, I had pieces shown in the North Charleston Culture and Arts show. In December, I will be doing both the Summerville Market Christmas and the Folly Beach Christmas Market at the pier. Anyone interested in my work can contact me through email at: email@example.com. A lot of my carving is done on commission for individuals. I am also scheduled to teach next year at Trident Technical College in their summer program. Currently, I have three pieces at the Coastal Carolina Fair. While I haven’t been to that fair yet, I understand from others that I won two first place blue ribbons and a second-place red ribbon in the carving category.
Mary E. Regan, columnist, is a publicist with her ProPublicist consultancy. Story ideas? Send email to Mary@ProPublicist.com.