Seventeen years ago, Kent Cartwright of Tiffin completed his first wood carving, a miniature boot. It now has a place of honor among dozens of other carving projects in his office at Heidelberg University, where he has been associate director of information technology for computer operations since 1998.
A Tiffin native whose father was a Junior Home kid, Cartwright is a 1972 Heidelberg graduate. While still a student, he was on the football coaching staff. His wife, Lynne, graduated in 1974, and their oldest son received a bachelor's degree at Heidelberg in 2003, the same year Lynne earned a master's degree from Heidelberg. She is an adjunct in the education department there.
Cartwright said his interest in wood carving began in the early 1990s when he was helping with his sons' Boy Scout troops.
"They needed an assistant scoutmaster at the church we were going to at the time. ... I saw some of the older fellows that were in camp who would sit and carve their walking sticks - beautiful walking sticks - or maybe they would have a duck or something. I thought, 'That's pretty cool. I'd like to know how to do that.'"
When someone told him about the Woodcarvers' Den in Bellevue, he went to check it out and signed up for lessons. He credits the instructors there with teaching him nearly all of his skills.
He also learned about Bill Judt, a master carver in Canada. Judt gave up a career as an ordained minister to become a professional carver. Cartwright went to Saskatoon once a year for more instruction and has used many of Judt's designs for his own carvings.
In between visits, the men stay in touch online.
"He has done lots of church stuff, like baptismal fonts and a life-sized Christ on a cross," Cartwright said.
Wayne Barton, a well-known chip carver, is another of Cartwright's instructors. Chip carving uses a mallet and chisel to remove small pieces or "chips" of wood to create designs on flat surfaces.
Cartwright has made numerous boxes and plates with chip-carved patterns, but he uses a less traditional way to apply the patterns.
"This entire plate is done on the computer and transferred onto the wood. So I don't have to trace any of this. I have all these images in my computer," he said, pointing out an example in his office.
The carver can alter the designs with different names or substitute a flower for a diamond shape. Cartwright uses a laser printer to print the finished pattern. The toner residue on the paper can be used to transfer the design onto the surface of the wood.
"I have a little tool with a disc on it, called a transfer tool. You just rub it back and forth and it re-melts the toner onto the wood. It's basically an ironing process. ... Then you carve on the lines," Cartwright said. "I'm not very much of an artist. I use a lot of other people's patterns. There are a lot of magazines that have a lot of patterns in them, so I just pick one out."
Although Cartwright usually does not sell his work, he does take commissions for personalized wooden plates for anniversaries and weddings.
Basswood and butternut are the woods he prefers for most projects. For bark carvings, he uses cottonwood, with its thick, rugged bark. Faith-based and Native American designs and figures are some of his favorite subjects to carve, along with Santas and caricatures.
Unlike some carvers, Cartwright does not keep track of everything he has made.
Cartwright set up a workshop in one corner of the attached garage at his home, but he outgrew that space. A few years later, he added on to the existing garage, intending to fix the original garage and extend the workshop. Instead, it became a storage bin.
Eventually, he and his wife eliminated most of the content, but Kent's struggle with prostate cancer over the past four years also delayed the workshop project.
In October, Kent and Lynne went to Toledo to give a carving demonstration. When they returned, he saw construction rubble in the driveway and stacks of lumber and other supplies in the new garage.
"Then the lights came on in our old garage, and there were at least 10 people from our church. They did almost the whole shop in one day. They paneled it, put up the ceiling and lights, they rewired it, put cupboards in, and countertop as a work space," Kent said
Because back pain had kept him from bending over to carve, Kent had been admiring a carving bench he saw in a catalog. It can be rotated and tilted at any angle to allow him to work standing up. After he hugged and thanked all the laborers, he saw a picture of that very table taped to a ladder. It was being shipped to Toledo to be picked up.
"I had to keep it a secret," Lynne said.
Church members and owners and employees at the Woodcraft store in Toledo had given donations to purchase the carving table. Members of a morning carving group, whom Cartwright had never met, also made contributions. The Cartwrights' sons purchased a new garage door to complete the project as a Christmas present for their parents.
Their son, Brent, also has begun to learn how to carve. When his father's tools are passed on to him, he will know how to use them.
"I still don't know what to tell these guys, other than 'Thank you,'" Cartwright said. "Just the number of people that love you and all you can do is return that love to them somehow. ... That's how the world's supposed to be."