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Published June 29 2012

Woodcarver cut her teeth in dental lab

Rochert, Minn. - If you ask Janice Kristofitz, you’re never too old to learn new tricks, especially when it comes to art.

Kristofitz, a 74-year-old great-grandmother living in Rochert, about 60 miles east of Fargo, found herself with plenty of time during retirement, and decided to give woodcarving a try.

She said she’s always been an artistic person, and even took art classes in school and painted oil- and watercolor- based images.

But over the years she lost interest in painting and decided to try her hand at woodcarving.

Because she used to work with three-dimensional sculptures of teeth as a dental lab technician, Kristofitz said she tends to think in three dimensions. It made her introduction to woodcarving easier.

“After working with teeth and making teeth, my kids said I should’ve been an engineer,” Kristofitz said, laughing.

She checked out the local woodcarving in Detroit Lakes but found it more useful to get advice or ideas from groups on the Internet.

Most of her carvings reflect the nature of rural Minnesota, featuring animals such as raccoons, fish, rabbits, birds and deer.

Some of the projects are fairly small and easily completed in a few hours. Others, like her “Dinnertime” carving that’s 42 inches wide and 7 feet high, take a little bit longer.

Although she recognizes she could probably sell some of her carvings, like other woodcarvers in the area, Kristofitz said she prefers to do it for fun.

“When you do it to sell it, then it turns out to be work instead of

fun,” she said.

Kristofitz’s work hasn’t escaped the notice of her neighbors in rural Rochert. Mary Elton, who lives next door, called the carvings “absolutely incredible work.”

“She really is an artist,” Elton said. “Her carvings are spectacular.”

And even though Kristofitz had something of a background that made it easier for her to get into carving, she said there’s no reason anyone can’t give woodcarving a try.

Wayne Hankel, a member of the Red River Valley Woodcarver’s club who teachers woodcarving classes for Moorhead Community Education, said for safety reasons at least some professional instruction is beneficial for beginners.

“There are some basics that I feel everyone should have, particularly from the safety aspect,” he said.

With that in hand, Hankel said anyone can enjoy the hobby, even with no artistic background.

“If you have somebody who can get you started, it can be a very enjoyable hobby,” he said.

Besides, Kristofitz said, if a carving doesn’t turn out for a beginner, it’s at least easy to dispose of.

“If you ruin it, you can always burn it,” Kristofitz said. “It makes for a good barbecue.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter Sam Benshoof at (701) 241-5535