Rock River Valley carvers dig in

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Dennis Hines | September 10, 2013

JANESVILLE — Dave Thill, a past president of the Rock County Humane Society, has a soft spot for dogs. But these days, his loyal friends tend to be made of wood, rather than the tail-wagging variety.

Thill, who specializes in wood burning pieces of art, will be the featured carver at the Rock River Valley Carvers of Wisconsin annual Wood Carving Show and Sale, which will be held from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 14, at the Blackhawk Center, located on the Rock County 4-H Fairgrounds. The show draws carvers from much of Wisconsin.

Thill, of Janesville, uses oil pencils to design pictures for his wood burning projects.

“I have two dogs, so I like to design animals,” he said. “I love working with pencils because they're easy to work with. You can basically scribble in your color and blending agent, and it makes everything blend really nice together.

“So, you can put two or three different colors in one area and come up with something that looks really good.”

Thill has won awards for several of his pieces. His wood burning portrait called “General Store” took first place in a woodcarving show in Sheboygan, and another one of his pieces won best in show at a competition in Madison. Thill said he participates in five woodcarving shows a year.

Making his pieces as detailed as possible takes time, and Thill said he can spend up to 40 hours working on some of his pieces. His award-winning “General Store” portrait, however, took him about 80 hours to complete.

“I'm retired, so I have the opportunity to do all of this stuff, plus the honey-do lists,” Thill said. “I don't usually keep track of my time. I think I would be in shock with some of this stuff.”

Thill has been doing wood burning projects for about five years. Despite having difficulty selling some of his pieces, he considers wood burning an enjoyable hobby.

“It's so tough to get a price that covers your time and efforts. Sometimes you wonder why you're doing this,” he said. “You take a baseball player, for instance, who just makes it into the major leagues. They're not making millions of dollars that some of the other guys are and it's like they do it for the love of the game, and this is almost like the same thing.

“It's the love of the art and the love of doing what you're doing. I have a lot of fun with it. I can get lost in it for hours at a time.”

Besides wood burning, Thill works on wood carvings and other types of art projects.

“I might do 10 percent carvings and 90 percent wood burnings,” Thill said. “You constantly have to stay on top of things. I'm constantly learning new techniques and new ways to do things.”

As a member of the Rock River Valley Carvers of Wisconsin, Thill said being involved allows him to interact with other artists and obtain ideas for future projects.

“There's an awful lot of talented folks in our carving club, so we have an opportunity to learn from one another and to teach,” Thill said. “What I do is quite a bit different than people who mainly carve. They might use a wood burning piece of equipment now and then, but probably not to the extent that I do. I'm really kind of the oddball of the club.”

The woodcarver show will feature about 50 artists who will sell or showcase their work. The event also will include woodcarving demonstrations, workshops and children's activities.

“We have activities for parents and kids, and we encourage them to participate,” said Tom Kautz, chairman for the Rock River Valley Carvers Show and Sale.

There will be vendors selling woodcarving tools and supplies and wood for burning, as well as a chainsaw carving demonstration outside of the Blackhawk Building.

“The demonstrator will be doing some chainsaw carving, and he will be selling some carved logs,” Kautz said.

The show will include a woodcarving competition with prizes for the top three finishers in each category.

“People who attend the show will be able to vote on each individual piece,” Kautz said. “They will be able to decide which piece will finish first, second or third place in each category.

“The woodcarvers work on their pieces all throughout the year. They select which pieces and designs they want to enter into the contest.”

This will be the eighth year for the woodcarver show. Kautz said the event has been well attended each year.

“It's grown quite a bit each year,” Kautz said. “Some carvers come (from) as far as Stevens Point, Milwaukee or Rockford. We get carvers from all over the area exhibiting and selling their wares.”

There is no cost to attend the show and sale, but donations will be accepted.

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