At the end of March, RVers from all parts of the country, all ages, and all talents pull into North Ranch Escapees Park near Congress, Arizona. A few boondockers park while others back up to the electric and sewer hookups. Everyone settles in. Awnings are pulled out and fastened; the ground cover is spread; the lawn chairs are opened, and a new home surfaces. They are RVers, woodcarvers and beaders. Some have come from many miles and made the trip for many years, immediately drawing hellos, hugs and handshakes from old comrades.
From the deep recesses of their compartments, the woodcarvers pull out the tools of their trade and the beaders bring out their basic beading supplies. Joined by North Ranch residents, they chat about their winter travels and summer destinations, and about which project they just finished or what they are working on.
For two weeks, the Activity Center bustles with enthusiastic instructing, laughter exploding, and energetic chitchatting, along with the whining and buzzing of machinery. Newbies, who thought they couldn’t, prove they could, and surprise themselves. The place is abuzz with those who teach, those who volunteer for other duties, and those who want to learn. Knowledge is shared and creativity experienced. Ideas run rampant. Talent is definitely on the loose. Everyone pitches in to make it a fun and fulfilling experience for teachers and students alike.
Wood into Art
The woodcarvers are part of an Escapees Birds of a Feather group, old friends gathering to enjoy a week of like interests, woodcarving, wood burning, gourd art and most anything else pertaining to whittling, carving or sculpting.
Their brochure proclaims: “We specialize in beginners!” I have seen some spectacular carvings from those beginners. Cardinals and bluebirds emerge from wood blocks, eagles grow, vultures scowl, cranes hunch, snowy owls stare, bears lumber, and spindles become Santa heads. Amazing shivery scenes of horses, wooded cabins, and howling wolves materialize from solid chunks of wood. Tail feathers are precise; paint colors are bright, and little old men swagger with pipes in hand (The sculptures, not the sculptors). Carving is explained: “Anybody can do it. Just carve away what doesn’t belong there.” Somehow I think that is easier said than done.
Most carvers belong to the National Wood Carvers Association, which promotes woodcarving and fellowship, encourages exhibitions, get-togethers, and anything that “aids the carver and/or whittler.” To inspire wannabes and others with new ideas, finished artwork is on display throughout the week.
Although the group encourages both men and women in carving, the group is mostly men. A few years ago, the decision was made to have a week for the beaders, giving wives a special time to learn and grow. As not many woodcarvers are women, so only a few beaders are guys.
Stringing and Stitching
This year the beading group had 118 participants including 31 teachers and volunteers that presented classes covering a wide variety of bead-weaving stitches, polymer bead techniques, wire working, stringing techniques, Kumihimo braiding, chain maille, wire work, and fancy knotting, plus resin pendants and bead crochet. In the future, they may offer Huichol beadwork and beading on gourds. The teachers are not professionals. It is likely they have never taught previously.
Participants learned the basic stitches and skills and found solutions to beading problems. Seminars were given on color theory, seed beading, bead stringing basics, and tools of the trade.
Most of these techniques were unfamiliar to me so I went online to find the instructions for using the Kumihimo Braiding KumiLoom, which requires using eight threads or cords. “This technique is applicable to all styles of handheld Kumihimo braiding products,” it said. Of course, I knew that. (I’d never make it in this class or even learn the “Kumihimo” language.)
Cathy Benton reported, “The cost to be a part of this group was an outrageous $15 for the whole week plus kits for the classes which usually run between $2 and $15. We have a ‘store’ at mostly wholesale prices with a few surprises.” As their classes ended, they had a Show-and-Sell time.
Workshops were open from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday. This year during both woodcarving and bead weeks, pizza and salad fests were held on Wednesday nights. Other years they have had a potluck or two through the week. Conversation and laughter mix well together for a time of camaraderie and accomplishment during workshops.
Planned activities are not necessary when each group ends their week in such cheerful exhaustion. Encouragement is rampant during both weeks.
Concentration and humped shoulders bring pain and stiffness by the end of the day and that could be said of both groups. I could neither carve nor bead for the hours nor with the accuracy and beauty that these carvers and beaders work. Fellowship and learning are their reward.
After Saturday breakfast, everything is packed, goodbyes and hugs are exchanged. “See ya next year” and “Where ya goin’ from here?” are shouted as they hook up tow vehicles and settle into their rigs. Engines are started. They turn either north or south onto Arizona State Highway 89 and scatter to the four winds until next year. Life is good. God Bless.
(NOTE: In 2015, Woodcarving Week will be March 14-21, and Bead Week will be March 21-28. For information on woodcarving, contact Walt Gunn at firstname.lastname@example.org. For information on beading contact Lila Dudley at email@example.com. The National Wood Carvers Association website is chipchats.org.)
Sharlene Minshall’s first novel, Winter in the Wilderness, (e-book and hard cover) and the fourth edition of RVing Alaska and Canada are available through Amazon.com.Research Campgrounds, Plan RV Safe Routes & Turn your phone into an RV GPS.
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