The Central Virginian

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Whimsy in Wood

Posted on Wednesday, October 2, 2013 at 3:54 pm

Trolls climb a walkway in an intricately carved piece.

Trolls climb a walkway in an intricately carved piece.

For the average person, a two-foot piece of wood is ideal to keep a wood stove going, instead Kathy Overcash envisions whimsical houses complete with elves, trolls or even a dragon. And, her timber of choice is not the typical hardwoods found throughout the county, but Canadian plains cottonwood bark.

Kathy credits the size and shape of the bark as providing the inspiration for her unique ideas. A taller section might inspire a willowy tree or a brick chimney. A thick base can be carved into rocks, a walkway or exposed roots. Window panes and peepholes in doors allow the woodcarver to hollow out the interior of a house and make a viewer want to look more closely to see inside.

The thickness and variation in hues of the wood is essential to the success of her carving, as well. If necessary, Kathy will plane then glue two pieces of bark together to obtain a six-inch diameter segment, a minimum for a three-dimensional house. Occasionally, she will create a wall hanging, but her preference is sculpture.

“I don’t use eastern cottonwood bark because it is too thin and doesn’t hold definition,” she said. “I order cottonwood by the box. Usually the bark does not cost that much, but the shipping is expensive because of the weight.”

Her tools vary from power equipment, like a band saw, to small handheld items, such as gouges, knives and v-tools. A glove protects her left hand while holding the wood, and a practiced eye guides the tool in her right one as it delicately removes small curling pieces of bark. A final touch consists of coats of Meltoniam boot cream in neutral or suitable shades. When worked into the wood, the polish adds depth and definition. A large intricate house can take as many as 40 hours to complete, while her miniatures can be carved in a day.

“Adding people and animals to my pieces is my specialty,” she said.

Kathy and her husband, Dennis, constructed her workshop, a well-insulated, Quonset-style structure on a concrete base adjacent to their Mineral home. Complete with a wood stove, air conditioner and air filtration system, the building houses her equipment, work stations and supplies.

“Although it took us over a year to do the entire shell, the workshop went up fairly easily not counting our few mistakes in the beginning,” said Dennis.

Woodcarving has not been Kathy’s life-long pursuit. Born in Spokane, Washington, she was a “military brat,” but as a high school senior living in Arkansas she visited Silver Dollar City [Branson], Missouri.

To read the entire story, see the Sept. 26 edition of The Central Virginian.