Courtland man’s hobby takes flight

Published 10:04 am Saturday, March 10, 2012

Some of Ervin Cruey's carved creations depicted are, from left, a yellow warbler, scarlet tanager, Carolina wren and rufus hummingbird. -- Stephen H. Cowles | Tidewater News


Ervin Cruey of Courtland uses tupelo wood for his aviary carvings. In his hand is a depiction of a Carolina wren with a natural finish.Some of Ervin Cruey's carved creations depicted are, from left, a yellow warbler, scarlet tanager, Carolina wren and rufus hummingbird. -- Stephen H. Cowles | Tidewater News

COURTLAND—On closer inspection of Ervin Cruey’s carved birds, you quickly see the artisanship. The wooden creatures are accurate in shape, color and details — even right down to their feathers.

The Courtland man’s love and patience for this pastime, combined with practiced skills, have again earned him recognition from his peers. Most recently, he was named Carver of the Year in the Intermediate Class by the International Wildfowl Carvers Association. A trophy was awarded at the East Carolina Wildlife Arts Festival last month.

Over a year, Cruey will compete in different shows and accrue points, which are tallied at the end.

Other categories are Novice, for which he was honored in 2008, and Open, which is composed of mostly professionals.

For him, though, “It’s still a hobby,” he said.

Curiously, all this interest in depicting ospreys, chickadees or Carolina wrens was born from carving miniature furniture on a 1-inch to 1-foot scale a few decades ago.

At a craft show during the early 1980s, he saw the carved wildfowl by such prominent people in the art as Curtis Waterfield.

“I was just fascinated by it and that’s where the interest came in,” Cruey said. “I carved until 1988.”

Work at Union Camp and a return to school interrupted the activity for about 15 years.

A visit to an arts festival in Waynesboro renewed his interest enough to take the tools down from the attic.

Cruey learned that during his absence, changes had taken place regarding the diversion.

For one thing, the IWCA had been formed the year he stopped, and established criteria for things such as size (miniature or full-size) and style (gunning or decoys as they’re more popularly known).

Starting again for him was “not quite like riding a bicycle,” Cruey said. “The details got so much finer. The tools had changed and so had techniques.”

Wood burners, for example, now can have tips designed like razorblades. With that new style, he’s learned to make 8 to 10 barbs per 1/8 inch for a feather effect.

Magazines devoted to the craft regularly offer articles describing certain methods.

“Everybody has a different technique,” said Cruey. “You read this. You read that. I do what’s comfortable for me, and still get the end result.”

“Most carvers start with the head,” he continued. “But I hate doing heads, and will rough them out and will do them last,” he said with a smile.

Rather than taking photographs, pictures in books serve as his references. Nor does Cruey have any interest, as some carvers have reportedly done, in creating an aviary to include hawks or owls for close-up study.

Don’t think for even a minute that the birds can be quickly carved and painted. There’s nothing factory-made about Cruey’s diversion.

His work at a palette mill in North Carolina combined with regular household chores demand much of his time.

“If I’m really lucky, I get six to eight hours a week to work on a bird,” he said, quickly adding that each carving takes 50-plus hours.

“I’ve got to be in the mood to paint,” Cruey said.

After all, this is a pastime, not a job for him.

So while he does accept commissions, don’t expect an immediate turnaround on order. As in the making of most good things, time and patience are necessary.

In his workshop, he shows the start of a big project — three chickadees. By the way, tupelo wood found in swamps is used.

Nancy Cruey is his wife; their daughters are Stacey Griffith and Leighann Kitchen.