Woodcarvers and turners are constantly sharpening their skills.

As they gather at local woodcarving shop In the Chips, the smell of freshly cut lumber and strong black coffee permeates the air. Conversation with playful teasing and laughter breaks up the rhythmic scraping of metal tools against wood.

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"Some days there are more cookie crumbs on the floor than wood chips," says master carver and In the Chips building owner, Larry Longtine, with a chuckle.

Most carvers who gather at In the Chips are members of the Red River Valley Woodcarvers, a club dedicated to promoting camaraderie among woodcarvers and encouraging the art through public display and civic involvement since 1973.

To expose the public to their craft and celebrate all wood art forms, the organization hosts the annual Wood Arts Festival every spring. This year's festival on April 8 and 9 at the Baymont Inn includes demonstrations, advanced classes with guest artist Marty Dolphens, beginner classes for all ages, table displays and more.

"Hopefully by showing the public what we do, we can encourage people to begin woodcarving," said veteran woodcarver Alan Pearson.

In the Chips business co-owner Ruth Severson works on a chess set. Chelsey Engelhard, The Arts Partnership
In the Chips business co-owner Ruth Severson works on a chess set. Chelsey Engelhard, The Arts Partnership

Currently, the Red River Valley Woodcarvers includes approximately 50 members, both men and women, who gather two or three times a week to share ideas, converse and learn new techniques. In the wood arts, there are plenty of techniques to master.

Club members, most of whom instruct wood art classes, are eager to teach the techniques to anyone interested (especially beginners) to ensure the art continues to flourish in the area.

In the beginner courses offered at the festival, instructors will teach participants carving safety, proper use of carving tools, the intricacies of wood grain and basic knife techniques.

Youth carving classes, in which students carve bars of soap instead of wood, will also be offered.

With diverse techniques and different types of wood, even the most experienced wood artists are always experimenting. The most commonly used wood is basswood, and as carvers gain experience, they move on to the more "exotic" woods like walnut and ebony.

Pearson, who has been carving for more than 30 years, joined the Red River Valley Woodcarvers four years ago. Before he joined, he was a "closet carver" who practiced on his own at home.

However, he said the benefit of being in the woodcarvers club and attending carving classes is learning from one another.

"Even if you think you know it all, you always learn something new," Pearson said. "There's always someone that will help you."

Woodcarver Joel Simons, chairperson of the Wood Arts Festival and treasurer of the Red River Valley Woodcarvers, said all artists develop their own technique after mastering the basics.

"You take what you learn from other carvers and make your own style," Simons said.

As with any art form, style comes with experience. Larry Longtine, for example, has been carving since 1977 and is a nationally known carousel horse carver. Currently, he's adding finishing touches to a carousel horse he plans to donate to the Red River Zoo upon completion.

Woodcarvers exhibiting their work at the Wood Art Festival have also been practicing the craft for decades. Figurines, animals, Norwegian ale bowls and other intricate designs are among the many artworks that will be on display.

The consensus among several carvers is that the best part of creating wood art is sharing it with others - whether they're exhibiting their work at the Wood Arts Festival, instructing courses or carving at assisted living homes once a week.

"More than anything, we just want to show people the amazing things that can be done with wood," Simons said. "That's our goal."

Longtine with his first-ever carving he made in 1977. Chelsey Engelhard, The Arts Partnership
Longtine with his first-ever carving he made in 1977. Chelsey Engelhard, The Arts Partnership

If You Go

What: 42nd Annual Wood Arts Festival

When: Noon to 5 p.m. Saturday and noon to 4 p.m. Sunday

Where: Baymont Inn, 3333 13th Ave. S., Fargo

Cost: $3 for admission.

More information: www.rrvwoodcarvers.wordpress.com or call 701-293- 6662 for class availability

This article is part of a content partnership with The Arts Partnership, a nonprofit organization cultivating the arts in Fargo, Moorhead and West Fargo. For more information, visit theartspartnership.net.