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As hobbies shift, island carving group endures

By Staff | Feb 25, 2015

Jerry Chrites and Wini Blacklow at the Thursday group session. CRAIG GARRETT

An art exhibit by an island group at the Sanibel library ends this month. But show’s ending won’t impact the Periwinkle Carvers Group, a small cluster of intensely passionate carvers, many with ribbons and a great deal of recognition for their work. The library exhibit featured a sampling of the group’s work.

The Carvers Group has met Thursday mornings at the Sanibel Community Church for more than a decade, sharing coffee and fritters before getting into the work with chisels, knives and power tools. The group’s name derives from a Periwinkle campground where it was formed in the early 1990s.

The Carvers Group “allows (you) to do what you love to do,” said Ed Sessa, one of the carvers with the group for a decade. “I was kind of blown away by the backgrounds of members. It’s a very interesting group.”

Like many social groups, Periwinkle Carvers orbit in their own universe. Eight or so members on Thursdays in a small room at the Sanibel church are engaged in talks, sharing stories, comparing carvings, helping and coaching one another. One woman is reading notes, another is snuggled into a facemask and googles. Like any club of skilled amateurs, there’s a general sense of calm, a warm buzz, that members are in their element. Most are using tupelo gum or basswood in the work, which ranges from wildlife to whimsical and bas-relief. Painting is the second art: Insiders suggest a bad carving can be salvaged with precise painting of hard and soft bird feathering, for instance.

Wini Blacklow is working on a wood bird, her sharp tools laid to the side of her Carvers Group work station. She has an open guidebook and a power tool in her space. She is engaged in carving a Greater Yellowlegs, holding the wood figurine while listening to tablemate Jerry Chrites, who is talking about the metal legs of an amazingly accurate bluebird he has carved. Chrites uses power and burning tools to create his work.

Carving work station. CRAIG GARRETT

“It’s therapeutic,” Chrites said in a Texas drawl. “Playing golf and carving birds. It’s what I do.”

Blacklow had carved wood dolls and is a lacemaker, but transitioned to bird carving in the last decade because she wanted to present her husband with a special gift, she said.

At the beginning the carving group was mostly men, Blacklow said, with a couple of women. Several women today belong to the group.

The men, she smiled, “cleaned up their language” with expanded women’s membership.

The Periwinkle Carvers Group meets at 9 a.m. Thursdays at the Sanibel Community Church, 1740 Periwinkle.

Some carvers use chisels to create their artwork. CRAIG GARRETT