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Carving a legacy: award-winning artist teaches adults, kids

One of the hidden treasures at the Naperville Park District is artist Shelly Weiser, an award-winning woodcarver and teacher. Quietly hosting free, drop-in woodcarving workshops every week at the Alfred Rubin Riverwalk Community Center, Mr. Weiser shares his knowledge, tools and creative flair with woodcarving enthusiasts of all levels of experience.
Mr. Shelly Weiser

The Tuesday morning woodcarving workshop is one of the free programs for senior adults. Additionally, Mr. Weiser teaches a youth woodcarving class that meets on Tuesday evenings at 5:00 p.m. for ages 8-16.

Shelly Weiser has won international recognition for his intricate pieces, and was featured in a Naperville Sun article in July 2017.
Amazingly, Shelly did not begin his woodcarving career until after he retired from his sales job at age 72. He is still going strong at the age of 90.

Watch the video story by NCTV-17.

Weekly Drop-In Carving
Visiting his Tuesday morning drop-in workshop, I was able to see some of his beautiful sculptures, which he brought in to show me. Several woodcarvers worked on their pieces while we talked, while others came and went, exchanging news and stories.
Some of Shelly Weiser’s sculptures

One of Shelly’s favorites: Hummingbirds and Dragonflies, which is incorporated into the bay window of his kitchen at home.

Tom is one of the regular participants in the Tuesday morning workshop. “I’m a new carver. Some have been carving a long time, but I just started a few years ago when I wanted to carve ornaments for Christmas. I began looking at carving magazines for ideas and noticed the list of carving clubs in the back of the magazine. That’s how I found this group. Shelly is an excellent teacher.  If you are stuck, he tells you how to get started or how to figure out a problem.”   

Tom works on a carving of Santa for the holidays

Tom is a retired fire fighter and enjoys carving and painting firetrucks. He showed me a picture of one of his pieces. He also participates in the North Suburban Carvers club and his wife and daughter have begun carving as well.
A photo of one of Tom’s firetrucks that he carved and painted

Leroy is one of the participants who has carved since his youth. “I grew up in rural Indiana, where high school basketball rules. When I gave my basketball coach one of the model airplanes that I carved, it started a trend and other students tried to learn. I ended up winning a $100 college scholarship in my senior year in a carving contest and was 4th in the state.” He became interested in car design, studied transportation at Indiana University, developed a career in logistics and retired as an international logistics manager. After retiring at age 62, he became a substitute teacher in special education for 14 years.Leroy is fascinated with antique and classic cars and carves his favorite models, as well as toys for his kids and grandkids.
Leroy as he works on one of his cars

Woodcarving for kids
Shelly’s carving class for kids began in 2005, when a mother asked whether there were classes that her 10-year-old son could attend. “With the Park District’s go-ahead, I began a class and 26 kids showed up. Another guy helped but we ended up splitting up the class into two sessions. That’s how we started, and now it is listed in the Park District Program Guide.”
Participants in the Tuesday evening woodcarving class, Feb. 2018
The kids start with relief carving, which only requires a simple carving tool, shown below, rather than a knife.
Relief carving tool
Example of relief carving
“Since then, I’ve also taught youth classes at churches and at other park districts.  I had 65 kids at one point, but since I turned 90, I’ve had to cut back.  I have so much fun with the kids. It’s a mixed class, both boys and girls.”

How to get started with woodcarving
You can take up carving at any age.  Jim, a retired American history teacher and a participant in the drop-in class, told me that he just started carving a few years ago. “I’m a walker. I was out walking on a path in Naperville and would often pass a guy going the other way, walking his dog. One day we started talking and he mentioned the carving class. I wanted something to do in my free time.  So I just showed up – and Shelly took it from there, sold me the tools I needed, and helped me begin. Carving is a great way to relax at home. And here, at the class, I enjoy sitting and listening to other people talk.”

More women are enjoying carving as well. Beginners are encouraged to attend the drop-in workshop and/or join a carving club. For inspiration, attend carving shows and look through magazines, such as ChipChats.
Chip Chats Magazine, featuring Shelly’s art on the cover

Benefits of carving
In Shelly’s words, “It’s a great hobby; it keeps you moving. It keeps me young and interested. And you meet a lot of different people.”

Another benefit is that woodcarvers enjoy making unique gifts both for family members and others.  For example, every year, Shelly and other woodcarvers make 15-20 hand carved canes to give to veterans.

“I encourage anyone with an interest in developing a hobby like carving to try it,” said Shelly. “I had no idea that I could do it until I tried.”


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