Woodcarving has found a home in Lee County. The craft has been here for a while, of course, but it has grown to the point to become the home of the nationally recognized Wood Carving Expo.
Beginning Jan. 24, the two-day festival attracts woodcarving enthusiasts from all over the state, if not all of the Southeast, to this unique event.
Entering its 25th year, the Woodcarving/Turning Expo has grown by leaps and bounds.
Held at the Harborside Event Center in Fort Myers, organizers have made a conscious effort to push the show into the national realm, raising its notoriety in the process.
John Franz, president of the Caloosa Carvers Club and chair for the event, said this year's show is going to be the biggest, and best, ever.
"We decided we wanted to move the show and make it a bigger and better show, recognized within the carving community nationally," He said. "This is going to be the biggest show we've ever had."
Who: Caloosa Carvers Club
What: 25th Annual Woodcarving/Turning Expo
Where: Harborside Event Center, downtown Fort Myers
When: Saturday, Jan. 24 - Sunday, Jan. 25, 9:30 a.m. - 4 p.m.
The show is going to be divided into three sections, according to Franz. One section will feature a series of vendors catering to the woodcarving nation. Their wares will include a vast array of carving materials, from wood to tools to paint.
The second section will be dedicated solely to the wood artists, who will have their creations on display and for sale.
The third section of the expo focuses on the competition aspect, where the artists vie for various accolades. There will be more than 600 pieces trying to capture one of the all-important winner's ribbons.
"We have decided to make that (the competition) a more important part of our show. If you win a ribbon in Fort Myers, it means something," Franz said. "We will have nationally known judges, so it's a big deal. None of the judges are from Fort Myers area."
Franz has been a woodcarving artist since 2004, when he wandered into the expo out of curiosity.
That began an odyssey of sorts, one in which Franz discovered his own innate ability of carve wood to create art.
"It is a learned skill, to a degree. But I was fortunate enough to have some innate ability. I became a master carver in four years," he said.
The satisfaction for Franz comes not from making a buck off his creations, instead finding peace and solace in the process of creation.
"For me it's a relaxing, enjoyable thing to do," he said. "It gives you a great since of accomplishment when you finish a piece. That's probably true of all carvers."
The Caloosa Carvers Club has a multitude of carving styles among its 100-plus members. They lean on each other's particular expertise, joining together to complete projects and teach each other brand new techniques.
"We have this collection of talent. If you want to learn chip carving, for example, we have several guys who know how," Franz said. "You can get as involved as you want. You can study and learn and become better."
Admittedly, Franz said most of the Caloosa Carvers' members are elderly, or retired. He hopes to attract younger members to the club, to carry on the growing tradition.
With that spirit in mind, the nationally known judges from the Woodcarving Expo will be sticking around after the Expo is over. They plan on teaching a week long series of classes that are open to anyone with the natural curiosity and the desire to learn woodcarving.
The five day class end with students having completed their very own woodcarving, and possibly the renewed interest to continue woodcarving on their own.
"The Caloosa Carvers is one of the most diverse clubs in the country," Franz said. "Its a great group of people sharing the interest of carving and who want to help each other. We're more than willing to accept anyone who is interested in learning."
Whether someone has been carving for 30 days or 30 years, Franz just hopes the woodcarving community continues to thrive, and grow.
The whole idea is to reach out to the community with this particular craft. Franz said the club plans on taking that sentiment even further, by participating in a national program that assists soldiers who have lost their eyesight or been injured in battle.
Caloosa Carvers will be taking part in the Cane Project, which individualizes hand-carved canes for a particular soldier.
Franz recently had the opportunity to visit Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., where he visited with injured soldiers.
He said the carvers meet and get to know the wounded veterans, then tailor the canes to their achievements, personalities and beliefs.
"I visited Walter Reed ... it's where they keep these wounded warriors. You meet these kids, who have a wonderful attitude," he said. "Many times the carver and the soldier become friends. We're in the beginning stages of getting this program together."
As the members of the Caloosa Carvers embark on that particular vision, they'll nurture the existing community at their annual show, next weekend.
Franz wants people to come out and see the unique work, maybe buy a piece, maybe even develop their own passion for this growing artistic community.
"You might not develop into a master carver, but you don't have to enjoy it," he said. "You don't have to be a real talented carver to enjoy it. Some have picked it up recently, others have been carving for 30 years."
The Woodcarving/ Turning Expo takes place Saturday and Sunday, Jan. 24 - 25, from 9:30 a.m. - 4 p.m., both days at Harborside.
Admission is $7 for one day, $10 for a two-day pass. For additional information, contact John Franz at 768-6570.