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German carver wows students at Northern Elementary

Horace May third-graders, from left, Ashley Hofstad, Taylor Wade and McKenzi Bowen watch as Werner Hebestriet helps make a flute out of a popple stick Monday morning. Hebestriet, from Germany, is in Bemidji to pick up his daughter, Lina, a 10th-grader at Bemidji High School who is enrolled in a foreign-exchange program in the district. Pioneer Photo/Monte Draper

Werner Hebestriet laid a split log on the floor Monday at Northern Elementary School and proceeded to tap all around a small segment of popple wood on top of it with a hammer, waiting until it cracked with a firm twist from his hands.

When it did, he quickly scored the bark around the segment and slid off the outer layer of bark, leaving him with just the core of the branch that he notched. He then put the bark back onto the core and handed it to an eagerly waiting student, and with her hesitant blow resulting in a high-pitched whistle, the children let out oohs and ahhs. He laughed to himself at their playful fascination.

Hebestriet lives in Buchholz, Germany, with his wife Susanne and daughters Lina and Jule.

He's in town this week, visiting Lina, who attended Bemidji High School as part of a foreign exchange program.

Werner spends most of his time back home working as a chef at the Hamburg Airport, but his free time is spent creating and selling his works of wood and bone as a side business.

"He does it more as a hobby," said Lina.

Susan Richards' third-grade class received this lesson in carving after Isaac McNallan, (Lina's host brother), told his teacher of Werner's amazing abilities. He speaks very little English, so Lina translated for the class.

Werner taught himself to carve for fun 10 years ago, at the age of 40, only using power tools to cut the segments of wood and deer antler.

"He does most of his work with dentistry tools." Lina said.

His works have a general theme of nature in most of them; an elk head, a horse-rider hunting a buffalo with a bow and arrow, a wooded horizon. A "large" antler carving is about two to three inches in diameter, and takes between 30-40 hours to make.

"A large one sells for about 118 Euros, approximately $140," Lina told the class.

After the presentation of his antler carvings, groups of three went into a back room with Werner, where they took turns tapping their pieces of popple and watching him work his magic with his whittling knife. When Werner's daughter Jule claimed to have already made 10, Susanne and Lina laughed and shook their heads. But from the reactions of the students who had just made one, you could swear that they'd want another nine whistles.

"They're cool!" said one girl. "And awesome!" said another.

But most of all, said Isaac McNallan with a shy smile, "they're fun to make."