Carving artist coaxes animals from his wood NORTH -- Manchester * Hampstead * Lineboro


Daylight is fading fast as Gary White leads the way toward the workshop at his house on Old Manchester Road near Hampstead.

As he passes a nondescript chunk of wood, he tosses a warning back over his shoulder, "Don't trip over this future dog."

Gary White is a Carroll County woodcarver -- but not of the whittling sort.

When the muse strikes Mr. White, he fires up one of his four chain saws and, in a storm of flying wood chips, releases a sculpture where once there was only firewood or driftwood or just a big hunk of log. Then he finishes off with an electric grinder, a rasp, a small torch and whatever paint he might have on hand.

This Sunday and the following one, Nov. 1, Mr. White will be demonstrating his carving at The Coop, an artists' cooperative on Butler Road in Baltimore County.

Mr. White will also be among a group of artists included in "Touch of the Hand," an open house at Custom's Last Stand, 2424 Marston Road in Marston, on Nov. 20 to 22. He will be demonstrating his art on Nov. 21 and 22. (Other demonstrators include woodworker Mark Cherry, blacksmith Gary Anderson, gargoyle sculptor John Bottomly and jeweler Matt Moran.)

At The Coop, he'll be carving pumpkins -- literally. And, he says, "maybe a dog or a cat. Maybe a dog that turns into a cat.

"If I start out making a dog and then find out his head's too small, he'll turn into a cat," he explains. "That happens a lot."

His workshop looks like a zoo, but a zoo straight out of a children's book.

There are dozens of species of animals -- a deer nearly as tall as a person, a brown duck in flight, a beaver, two eagles with spread wings, a red fox, a pink flamingo, a blue crocodile ("I ran out of green paint," he says), an otter, a hanging pterodactyl, birds with long necks going in all directions, two smiling dogs, a bright pink pig, a rabbit standing on its hind legs.

On a shelf, three wooden owls sit in a row. A table is carved in the shape of a flounder. "I've tried to mix in something that's functional once in a while," he says.

There are other sculptures -- masks, faces, figures of people, totem poles, a cactus, a watermelon, a wooden American flag.

It is the essence of true folk art -- whimsical, rustic, artful and appealing.

Mr. White turns and heads behind the workshop to a stack of wood with a half-carved dog rising up out of the middle.

"A nice fresh new load of wood -- spruce," he says.

The dog, however, is not made of spruce, but some strange yellowish wood.

"Osage orange," he explains. "That's really hard wood to carve. He'll probably never be finished. Too hard to work."

He pauses, then adds with a smile, "Firewood. Decorative firewood."

Mr. White has been carving and selling his sculptures for the past four years, ever since friends who were given his creations started saying, "Why don't you put a price tag on them?"

His wife, Cheri, daughter Heather, 16, and son Lucas, who is about to turn 15, have encouraged his work.

He sells much of his work at craft shows throughout the Mid-Atlantic region but keeps a constant selection at The Coop. Galleries in Baltimore, such as Nouveau on Charles Street and Gallery Elizabeth on Light Street, also carry his work.

He works full time for Double Diamond Construction, a Westminster company that specializes in restoring older historic homes, but hopes to become a full-time woodcarver soon since his sculptures have become so popular.

He works primarily in wood but sometimes uses pieces of pipe or found metal for legs or other parts of his sculptures.

A flamingo sitting in the middle of his workshop has a maple branch for a head and neck, a piece of driftwood for its body and lengths of rebar for legs. The pink flamingos are among his most popular carvings. He estimates that he's sold more than 25 of them.

Long-necked birds of all types are a staple in his menagerie.

"Flying ducks are good sellers, too," he adds.

But he never mass produces his work. "I could but I don't," he says. "It would lose something."

He wants each thing he does, even sculptures of the same animal, to be unique. "I can't just make a bunch of heads and then put them on a bunch of bodies," he says.

"I usually see something in the hunk of wood, like a tail or a nose, and go from there," he explains. "The ones I see something in turn out better than just a block of wood I start carving. They're more lifelike."

For more information about The Coop, call 472-4936. To find out more about the open house at Custom's Last Stand, call 875-2309.

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