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Patrick Springer, Published December 28 2012

Carving out some time for a hobby

Fargo - You might say that Wayne Hankel’s abiding woodcarving hobby started as a 4-H project. Hankel was an area 4-H agent for Dickey, LaMoure, Ransom and Sargent counties and was looking for an activity that could bring together kids and parents.

Somebody suggested woodcarving, and Hankel arranged for a carver to demonstrate fundamentals for a class or two.

At the last minute, he thought he should attend, just to make sure everything went smoothly. Hankel tried his hand, carving a stylized otter.

Later the instructor sent the pupils a homework assignment – a rough cutout of a deer to be finished. Hankel decided to complete the assignment.

That was more than 35 years ago, and he’s been carving ever since. Something the instructor said stayed with him.

“He said woodcarving saved his life,” Hankel said. Carving relaxed him, which he credited with helping his heart condition.

Now retired and living in south Fargo, Hankel does most of his carving from an easy chair in his living room.

He keeps a tackle box with his tools by his side, and spreads a cloth to catch the shavings.

“This catches about 90 percent, unless I’m really going to it,” he says, demonstrating.

Hankel carves mostly animal miniatures, although this time of year he’s busy carving a Santa for a daughter-in-law who collects statues of the jolly elf and Nativity sets for his grandkids. His daughter likes carved snowmen.

The instructor with the heart condition was right – woodcarving is relaxing, Hankel says.

And it’s a lot less fuss to set up and clean up after than oil painting, an earlier hobby of his. Or, as Hankel puts it, “The woodcarving fits into a busy person’s schedule.”

Hankel has taught woodcarving for the North Dakota Arts Council in small communities, as well as community education classes around Fargo-Moorhead.

Carving seems to be catching on.

“I would say it’s a little more popular now,” Hankel says. “The majority are seasoned citizens,” though some kids also are taking up the hobby.

His wife, Elaine, tolerates his hobby but has not been bitten by the carving bug. She collects dolls and porcelain figurines.

“If we had a real good marriage, she’d do a lot of the sanding,” he quips.

Hankel’s wildlife carvings – ducks, deer, elk, bear, buffalo, fish – occupy display shelves in the living room. Some he keeps in the basement.

He keeps files of animal photographs for reference, including some he took of elephants on the Serengeti Plain in Tanzania. He sketches some of his designs on a computer.

Although realistic wildlife miniatures are his favorites, he also makes chip carvings and relief carvings.

One of Hankel’s prized pieces is a life-sized pheasant. Another noteworthy piece is a wooden chest carved with traditional Norwegian designs.

He finds carving absorbing, and sometimes loses track of the time while he’s whittling away.

“Once you get going,” he says, “it’s hard to set it down.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter Patrick Springer at (701) 241-5522