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Blackduck Woodcarvers Festival notes milestone

The wood chips are cleaned up, the paint is dry and the finishes are perfect as 48 artists prepare for Saturday's 25th annual Blackduck Woodcarvers Festival.

The festival will begin at 9 a.m. at the Wayside Rest, but the anxious and curious will show up earlier to view the creativeness of carvers from Minnesota, Wisconsin, North Dakota and Iowa.

Tradition continues with the festival's raffle. This year Rob Stomberg, Blackduck, has carved a beautifully detailed Mallard duck for the drawing.

In honor of the 25th year, a book has been compiled about the festival: "Carving A Niche In Northern Minnesota." The task to interview, garner photos and write the book was taken on by Mary Jo Jepson, who grew up in Blackduck.

Jepson began the project in January. She spent two months interviewing and researching, a month of shoulder-to-shoulder work and many long phone conversations with her brother, Stephen Parker, a graphic design artist from St. Paul.

"I'm so proud of his work; he took my stories, photos and articles to create a beautiful book," Jepson said.

This is not Jepson's first book. As a history major in college she wrote a book "Blackduck, 1900-1905, Founding of a Town" which was reworked and republished again in 1994 with the help of her brother.

"When I agreed to write this I thought I could do a little history piece, a nice pamphlet. How big a deal can this be?" she said. "All of a sudden it just grew."

It was after an interview with Carlos and Ruth Spindler, "I knew this was going too be fun," Jepson said.

In the conclusion of her 79-page book, Jepson said, "This work rapidly turned into a labor of love. (Through my research) I was reminded of the character and spirit and generosity of this community."

According to Jepson, there were so many carvers she wanted to interview, but she had to cut it off somewhere so she concentrated on the original crew.

Jepson even inadvertently volunteered her husband, Kevin to nearly 30 hours of keyboarding 85 pages of her longhand and scribbles into a transcript. "We spent the entire day at the Minnesota History Center in St. Paul making copies from every story the Blackduck American and the Pioneer did about the festival," Jenson said. "He's a real trooper."

The spirit lived on when it came to printing the book, which had grown in size. Having a book with color looked to be impossible on their budget, but as Jepson found a generous friend in Steve Krueger, general manager at Arrow Printing, a 1977 graduate of Blackduck High School. With a little faith, 1,000 copies book were printed.

The book will be on sale during the festival and Jepson will be available to sign copies.

The festival will have woodcarving demonstrations throughout the day educating the beginner to simple techniques to help accomplished carvers grow. Tool vendors will have their wares and books for sale. In the center tent a free children's woodcarving class will run from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m.

For the hungry and thirsty, 10 local service groups and organizations will have food available for the expected 3,000 visitors.