Finding figures in wood

Published 11:59 pm Friday, December 26, 2008

Norman Chastain has always worked with wood, but his work has taken a different shape recent years.

Chastain, a retired carpenter, and his wife, Betty, began a long journey during the summer of 1989 in southern Indiana. The two decided it would be nice to do a little traveling.

“We actually sold our home and everything we owned in 1989,” he said. “We had an auction beginning at 8 a.m. and by 5 p.m. the only thing I owned was a pickup truck. We went out and purchased a fifth wheel and on July 4, 1989, we drove down our driveway for the last time.”

The couple traveled throughout the United States through the next 12 years, meeting numerous people along the way, but one chance meeting in the summer of 1991 changed Norman’s life forever.

“We were working with the Corps of Engineers at a campground in Alex City, Ga., during the summer months,” he said. “There was an assistant manager I spoke with one day. He said he wood carved. I told him it was something I had always been interested in doing.”

Chastain said the man presented him with a block of wood cut into a rough shape.

“I asked him what it was,” he said. “He told me it was a black cap chickadee.

“I looked up information on the bird to see what it was. All I had at the time was a pocketknife so I began carving it. I placed it on an old tree limb and painted it.”

The finished piece was presented to the man, Chastain said, and one simple piece of advice was offered.

“He said to always keep your first carving so that you can look back over the years and see how much you have improved,” he said. “Now that I know a little bit about carving it doesn’t look too good.”

The Chastains continued their travels, spending winter months out west and summer months working with different engineering corps to rebuild funding for the next leg of the journey.

Norman said he joined the National Woodcarvers Association in 1991 and has entered a few contests here and there, but none of that is important to him.

“As far as entering competitions I have never been interested in that,” he said. “I wood carve because I love to wood carve.”

A typical piece, normally carved out of Basswood, takes approximately 25 hours to complete, according to Chastain. Since the Chastains rooted themselves in Covington County in 2003, he admits that woodcarving has received less of his time.

“I wood carve far less now than when we were on the road,” he said. “It is something I continue to do because I love it.”

He said that he has gotten better and his tool resources have also grown over the years.

“It is just a gift God has given me,” he said. “I just enjoy working with wood. I have a lot more tools these days. It makes the job easier than back when I started with just a pocketknife.”

Anyone who enjoys woodcarving and is interested in creating a local association should contact Norman Chastain at (334) 388-3542.