Janesville man to sell, display wood carvings during Sept. 12 annual show, sale

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Shelly Birkelo
September 1, 2015

JANESVILLE—Bernie Fields' carving knife slipped deftly over a chunk of wood as Fields shaped a spoon in the basement woodworking shop at his East Avalon Road home.

Fluorescent and desktop lamps provided ample light for his close-up work.

Dozens of intricate carving tools hung within easy reach on a magnetic strip on the wall.

When finished, the spoon will be among hundreds of woodcarvings the self-taught carver has made since he began carving more than two decades ago.

Wood-carving enthusiasts will get to meet Bernie on Saturday, Sept. 12, at the Rock River Valley Carvers' 10th annual Show and Sale. His table will exhibit dozens of his finished pieces, some for display only and others for sale.

Bernie spends countless hours in the comfort of his shop, where country music plays from a boom box and five black-and-white Harley-Davidson motorcycle posters hang on a wall.

The room offers plentiful evidence of Bernie's hobbies, which include wood carving, woodworking, leather crafting and restoring collector cars.

Beverly, his wife of 58 years, shares his love of woodworking. She does wood burning and uses colored pencils to accent some of Bernie's pieces. The couple created three Christmas tree ornaments the carving club will sell this year.

Both are members of the local carving club, which gave Bernie the opportunity to watch others work when he was a novice carver.

Beverly describes Bernie as a “patient perfectionist" who is “talented and meticulous.”

For Bernie, the appeal of wood carving and woodworking is the finished product and seeing what he has accomplished.

Bernie primarily carves basswood, but he also works with butternut, catalpa, cherry and cottonwood that he gets through family and friends.

“I haven't bought a lot and have enough to last the rest of my life,” he said.

Bernie seldom finishes a project in one day. Instead, he works a couple of hours, takes a break then goes back to it.

He spends more time in the shop during winter, when he doesn't have yard work or golf to distract him.

“Winter is not horrible to us anymore,” Beverly said.

“This is our salvation,” she said, standing amid the wood shop's many machines, including a lathe, dust collector, sander, table saw and leather press.

Even though the Fieldses' home is filled with projects Bernie and Beverly have made, they have given just as many away as gifts.

Bernie's favorite carving features two hummingbirds on a vine. The work is mounted on a stand and took six months to create.

“It was one of my first challenges,” he said of its size and intricacy.

He made the carving from one piece of wood, working from a sketch and photograph.

“Most people who carve would have carved the body, beak and wings separately, then glued them together. But this is one piece of wood,” he said, pointing to the finished piece, which was sitting on a dining room table full of carvings.

Bernie also spent months carving an elk while recovering from knee-replacement surgery in 1985. He wound up retiring from General Motors two years later.

His first two carvings of horses are displayed on top of the dining room hutch. He decorated them to cover up their simplicity.

Over the years, his work has gotten more intricate. Those who attend the Sept. 12 show will have a chance to win one of his more recent projects: a calla lily-topped spoon and stand he's donating as a raffle prize. It's valued at $75.

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