Woodworking and In the Chips

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The Treasures that Lie Within

As a child, I often watched my grandfather in his woodcarving studio. I marveled at his ability to transform a seemingly innocuous block of wood into an intricately detailed object. He tried to teach me the craft on a bar of soap. As hard as I tried, I wasn’t able to replicate his transformations. I usually ended up with nothing more than a few random chunks of soap. I don’t know who gave up first, but it is safe to say that neither Grandpa nor I resisted the decision to surrender. I felt that same sense of awe as I watched members of the Red River Valley Woodcarvers in action. They cut, chiseled, and shaved with the same delicate precision that I saw so many years ago. I was very excited to see a few women in the group, creating with as much passion and talent as the men.

The Red River Valley Woodcarvers meet at In the Chips in North Moorhead. Although the business is still fairly new to the Red River Valley, it is already making a name for itself – and it is owned by a woman. Ruth Severson is further shattering the belief that carving is reserved for members of the good ol’ boys club.

It was Ruth’s love of woodcarving that was the motivation behind opening her own business. “The biggest reason we’re here is to promote the craft,” she explained. “Lots of people these days don’t do anything for fun anymore.” Since opening in April, Severson has seen her business progressively grow. “We plan to add classes after Christmas,” she said. For now, the shop is home to the Woodcarvers and the Minn-Dak Woodturners Association, both of which Ruth is a member. In the Chips also sells a wide variety of tools and craft books, and houses an impressive display of completed projects, many of which are for sale.

Ruth came across woodworking three years ago, entirely by accident. “A friend tricked me into attending a meeting,” she said. While there, however, Ruth met Larry Longtine and fell in love with both him and the craft. “The rest is history, I guess.” Although she doesn’t focus on one specific type of project, Ruth has been working on faces as of late. “A woman’s face is much harder than a man’s,” she said. “I can add hair to a man’s face to hide imperfections, but a woman’s has to be clean.” As Ruth focuses on creating women, more and more females are getting involved in the craft. Both the Woodcarvers and the Woodturners have a handful of female members. “I would love to see more women get involved,” she said. “Everyone thinks it’s just a guy thing.”

Judy Dahl is one of the women adding a female perspective to the group. Although Judy felt like she lacked the innate art ability needed to carve, she agreed to give it a try. Four years later, Judy has found a home at In the Chips. “It’s so exciting to see what I can create from a hunk of wood,” she said, adding that she is currently working on Santa and angel figurines. Although the love of the craft initially hooked her, it is the camaraderie that means the most to her. “Everyone is always so willing to help out if someone gets stuck,” she said. Indeed, the atmosphere of the shop as eight to ten members carve over the lunch hour is one of friendship, mutual respect, and revelry. Most importantly, they are as welcoming to newcomers as to those with decades of knowledge and experience.

Although more females are finding an unknown passion for woodworking, the seasoned men are the heart and soul of the group. Many are retired and the diversity of occupations is impressive, including teachers, a police officer, a pharmacist, and a musician. “The people are so different,” Ruth said, “and that is what makes the group so interesting.” During our interview, I had the good fortunate of meeting Eddie, who at 96 years old still never misses an opportunity to embrace his creativity. Eddie specializes in chalices that are no bigger than two inches tall, each as intricately detailed as if full-size. “I’ve made over a hundred,” he said before shuffling off to his corner of the shop. The projects aren’t the only treasures within the walls of In the Chips.

Both the Red River Valley Woodcarvers and the Minn-Dak Woodturners Association are always looking for new members. “Even if you don’t think you have the ability, just try it,” Judy said. “There is no skill level necessary,” Ruth added.

More information about the Red River Valley Woodcarvers and the Minn-Dak Woodturners Association can be found at www.rrvwc.org and www.minndakwoodturners.com. In the Chips is located at 303 21st North in Moorhead.

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