They come from all over — Illinois, Alabama, Wisconsin, Iowa and even a few from overseas — to the Jackson County Fairgrounds in Maquoketa, Iowa.
A small group huddles around an unassuming man seated at a table under two lamps. They are men, women, young and old. All eyes watch every move of the gifted hands. One feverishly takes notes; all are silent.
All have one goal: to become better at what they love — carving.
As if by magic, professional woodcarver Josh Guge guides a shaping tool over a smooth piece of wood.
“Whenever you do a split, it allows you to see the feather underneath it and that gives it a more transparent look,” Guge says on the third day of his five-day Realistic Bird Carving/Painting Seminar.
He shows the delicate feathers that have now appeared in the material. "Less is more,” he continues. “If you can’t do it lightly, don’t do it.”
This is the fourth year at the International Woodcarvers Congress for Harman Sporleder of Manitowoc, Wis.
“This is about a whole week's work so far,” he says, showing a clearly formed small bird carving. Sporleder returns his focus to putting feather detail on his wren. “I carve a little bit of everything — some birds, some fish. I do some wood turning. I just like wood.”
Almost 30 seminars of varying lengths are conducted before the general public is invited in, and those hands-on seminars are taught by some of the world’s best during the 47th annual event.
For seminar instructor Guge, the tradition of carving is in the family.
“I’ve been coming to the show since I was a little kid," he said. "My dad’s a carver." The Guge Institute of Wildlife Art was founded by Josh and his father, Bob, in Gilberts, Ill. The men have gained national recognition for winning numerous Best of Show and World Championship awards at prestigious carving competitions around the country.
Bob Guge had been scheduled to teach a seminar this year, but the progression of brain cancer forced him to cancel.
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After a number of years in the Quad-Cities, the event relocated to Maquoketa in 2010. The one big difference in Maquoketa is the camaraderie, according to Guge. Signs are up throughout the community welcoming the carvers and those interested in the event. “We get discounts every place we go,” Guge said.
Carol Leavy, publicity chairperson of the Affiliated Wood Carvers, said some "very amazing" pieces have been submitted this year for the International Woodcarvers Congress.
“When the judges look at a piece, like an animal or fish, it has to be true to the habitat.” Leavy said. “They are very particular.” She explained, “The judges had some debate about that during judging because they had some very high quality pieces to evaluate.”
Carving enthusiasts will find Intarsia has been added as a category in this year's show.
“Intarsia is an art form that uses the natural color and the grain of the wood to create an image (picture) with depth and texture.”