Carving out a niche for himself

Published 10:49 am Monday, February 23, 2009

COURTLAND—At first glance they look as though they’re about to take flight. Or burst into song.

This is most likely what the officials thought when they judged the songbirds that wood carver Ervin Cruey placed into competition at the 21st Annual Core Sound Decoy Festival in Harkers Island, N.C., in December.

So life-like were his five entries that the Courtland resident took first and second-place “Best in Show” ribbons for life-sized songbirds and first, second and third-place “Best in Show” ribbons for decorative miniature songbirds.

His work garnered so many points that the International Wildfowl Carvers Association, which sponsored the decoy festival, named him the “2008 Novice Carver of the Year.”

Cruey just recently received his trophy and first-place ribbon from the IWCA, an organization formed in 1988 to establish rules that are fair to all competitors and consistent from show to show in the United States and Canada.

“I was pretty excited,” said Cruey, who has been carving steadily since 2006, although he actually started carving during the early 1980s. “This award means a lot to me.”

The talented woodworker said he became interested in carving when he met Curtis Waterfield, a well-known carver from the Back Bay, Virginia Beach area.

“I met him at a craft show and I was fascinated by his work. I asked him if he would draw me a pattern so I could try carving a bird.

“To my surprise, he said “No.” But then he admitted with a grin that he couldn’t draw “worth a flip.”

He added, though, “Bring me some poster board and scissors and I’ll cut out a pattern for you of anything I make.”

Cruey said he started carving ducks because there was more published information for beginning carvers on ducks. It was time-consuming, however, and after a while, he just slowed down.

“Then in 1988, patterns and how-to books on songbirds became available. Still it wasn’t until 2006 that I started carving on a regular basis.”

He said he still enjoys carving ducks, but sees the results faster with songbirds, especially miniatures. “I only have time to do from five to seven birds a year, so I hesitate to get involved in projects that may take months to complete.”

When he decides on what bird he is going to make, Cruey first studies photographs and plans. He says accuracy is important.

He carves both life-size and miniature (half-size) birds and usually has two to three in various stages of completion going at the same time. He must also choose and carve the bird’s habitat.

For the fowl he uses tupelo wood and acrylic paints and whatever material that works for its surroundings. “For instance, the petals on that flower,” he said pointing to a Gold Finch perched on a flower, “are made from a soft drink can.”

The birds he carves are ones that are native to this area. The five birds that won are: Life-sized, the Red-breasted Nuthatch and the American Redstart and in the miniature class, the Cardinal, the Red-winged Blackbird and the Blue Grosbeak.

Cruey says he probably will sell some of his birds, but hasn’t decided on how he is going to do it.

“Right now, I do take commissions, but I find I find it most satisfying to work on what I want and not what I have to. I guess that’s every carver’s dream.”

As for competition, he is no longer eligible to show his work as a novice. He is now in the Intermediate Class and has already won several awards.