Award-winning Eau Claire wood carvers, authors excel at niche craft
Nov. 30—EAU CLAIRE — Charlene Lynum and Jan Jenson of Eau Claire want people to know that wood carving doesn't only belong to artists wielding chainsaws.
Not only are Lynum and Jenson friends and veteran chip carvers — experts in a niche type of wood carving that involves intricate patterns and precise knife cuts — they're also published authors.
Lynum, who lives in Eau Claire with her woodworker husband Kim, published a book on her craft this fall, "Chip Carving Starter Guide."
Lynum has been chip carving for decades. She taught herself the hobby in the mid-1980s; the only formal carving education she's received are a few classes with veteran woodworkers in the 2010s.
But intricately decorated wall hangings and coasters can be spotted in Lynum's home, and her body of work spans clocks, ornaments, serving platters, trivets, many kinds of wooden boxes and jewelry.
Jenson, who also lives in Eau Claire, began chip carving in 2002 after attending a class in Texas on a whim. A longtime home economics teacher, she immediately took a shine to the craft.
"I was fascinated by it," Jenson remembered. "I started drawing my own patterns and teaching classes."
Rather than carving a new shape out of a piece of wood, chip carvers chisel detailed patterns of small shapes out of a pre-existing wooden surface. The final effect is intricate and eye-catching: unique patterns adorning wood items ranging from serving plates to jewelry boxes.
Lynum primarily carves in light-colored basswood. Kim, who creates her wooden pieces, uses butternut, black walnut, orange-hued padauk and violet-colored purpleheart wood to trim and highlight her pieces.
Another upside? Chip carving doesn't require power tools, just one good knife.
"You don't need a lot of gouges or a large assortment of knives," Lynum said. "We're always looking for that elusive perfect knife."
Lynum's niche is traditional-style chip carving, while Jenson prefers a style called Old World chip carving.
Many chip carvers begin by tracing a pre-existing design into a piece of wood. But starting in 2010, Lynum began designing her own patterns — and now it's a labor of love for both her and Jenson.
Lynum's process involves sketching and refining her patterns on graph paper, then using computer software and a heat transfer tool to trace the design onto the piece of wood. After a lot of trial and error on practice pieces of wood, she'll then carve the final design.
They both enjoy poring over new designs, but working on a carving itself is meditative, Lynum and Jenson said.
"I find it relaxing," Lynum said. "It releases stress for me ... what I love is that it's something unique, your own, something no one else has designed before."
Lynum and Jenson are no strangers to the national wood carving scene. Both women have had projects published in Woodcarving Illustrated magazine, and won awards in carving competitions around the state and country. (Among other awards, Lynum won the chip carving category at the International Woodcarvers Congress in Maquoketa, Iowa in 2019, and took awards in chip carving in British Columbia, Montana and New England.)
But in September 2020, Lynum said she was surprised when Pennsylvania-based Fox Chapel Publishing, which publishes Woodcarving Illustrated, approached her about writing a book.
"This was during COVID, so I had a lot of time. I said 'Sure, why not?'" Lynum remembered. "I read the email two or three times and asked myself, 'Is this saying what I think it's saying?'"
After spending five or six hours per day working on the book through January, Lynum handed the manuscript to the publishing house in April. The book hit shelves earlier this month: a step-by-step guide to learning how to chip carve. It's available for purchase at www.foxchapelpublishing.com and on Amazon.
Jenson herself has written and self-published two books in 2014 and 2019, respectively — "Blue Ribbon Chip Carving" and "More Blue Ribbon Chip Carving."
Teaching classes, she said, is what she truly loves. The classes have taken her to La Crosse, Neenah, Boulder Junction, South Dakota and to Texas, where she spends the winter months.
Through the COVID-19 pandemic, Jenson recalled hosting four people at a time, spread out using a large table, all wearing masks, as she taught them to carve.
"I never would have dreamt I would be teaching it, much less writing books," Jenson said.
Lynum and Jenson are members of the West Wisconsin Woodcarvers Guild, which holds regular meetings in Eau Claire and Chippewa Falls and is open to community members interested in all forms of carving. There are around 50 members, Lynum said, and carvers will often teach projects to the rest of the group. Meeting information can be found at the guild's website, wwwcg.org.
Both women praised each others' talent. Jenson jokingly calls herself and Lynum "the instigators" — pushing to invite other wood carving clubs to the Eau Claire area, to hold more community events and to get more people to try the craft.
"I think it's a wonderful art," Lynum said. "I want to get people interested in it and have them enjoy it as much as I do."
"Once you start, it's addictive," Jenson said.