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Forest Hill woman carves her place into history

Decoy carving is a proud, long-standing tradition in Harford County, one that 79-year-old Hazel Goodwin has been mastering for nearly 15 years.

"You're never too old to try something new," Goodwin, who lives in Forest Hill with her husband, John, joked.

The retired elementary school teacher has tried many hobbies since retiring in the mid-1990s — quilting, painting with watercolors and, back in 1998, wood carving.

On a trip to the Havre de Grace Decoy Museum, Goodwin met a man who was teaching carving classes and decided to give it a try.

"I never even thought I wanted to do it before then," she said. "I was retired and it sounded interesting."

Goodwin was able to carve lots of figures in addition to waterfowl decoys, such as a red shoulder hawk, cows, sheep and, most recently, a bald eagle.

"Everything looks so real when you're finished," she explained. It took Goodwin more than a year off and on to complete "Gus" the eagle, named after a springer spaniel the couple knew during their time living in Pylesville.

Not just a beautiful handcrafted statue, the eagle has special meaning to the Goodwins.

At their old Pylesville home, a hybrid of poplar trees grew so large on their property that limbs began to fall off and had to be cut down.

Years before that happened, however, Goodwin took a photo of an eagle sitting atop one of the trees. When the trees were cut down, she kept the stump from the top of that one tree.

It was only right, then, that Goodwin placed Gus atop that stump and displayed it in her home.

Goodwin normally uses tupelo wood for her carvings and pays excruciating detail to every component of her carvings, down to the last feather.

She explained that she uses bigger carving tools at first to create the general shape and then uses smaller tools for the "finer details."

"Each feather is made by hand," Goodwin said. "It's a time consuming process. In the case of fur, you're making each little hair on the animal."

That passion and patience has earned Goodwin several awards, including first place at this year's Harford County Farm Fair for the bald eagle, as well as the President's Award and first place honors at the Maryland State Fair in Timonium.

It was the first time Goodwin had ever entered a piece at the state fair.

"My husband talked me into that," she said. When asked how she felt about her accolades, Goodwin humbly said, "I just think that this little old lady can do it."

The appreciation makes Goodwin want to tackle even more hobbies.

Right now she's learning to play the steel drums for her church, Emory United Methodist in Street. Goodwin also spends a lot of time at the Bel Air Athletic Club taking water aerobics classes.

She's also started work on her next carving project, a red fox.

With 50 years of marriage under her belt, Goodwin credits her husband for keeping her going.

"He's my biggest supporter," she said. "He's also a critic. He tells me if he doesn't think it looks good."

For those who want to venture into unknown territory like Goodwin did with carving, she has one piece of advice: "You're never too old to try something new."

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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