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VIDEO: Carving out a niche in life: Bemidji woodcarver finds hobby relaxing, rewarding

Robert Larson works on a carving in the basement of the Senior Activity Center during a recent meeting of the Bemidji Woodcarvers Club. (Maggi Stivers | Bemidji Pioneer)2 / 3
Robert Larson shows off some of his carvings and the awards he received at the recent Red River Valley Wood Arts Festival in Fargo. (Monte Draper | Bemidji Pioneer)3 / 3

BEMIDJI -- Every Wednesday morning, you can find Robert Larson, along with several others, decorating the basement floor of the Senior Center with wood chips.

Larson, 66, has only been a serious woodcarver the past 10 years, but he's worked with wood half of his life as a carpenter. He said he was encouraged to start woodcarving by several close friends who helped him master the basics.

While there is no limit to what can be carved out of wood, Larson typically focuses on people rather than animals. "If you would have told me, I would carve people when I started, I would have told you that you were crazy because there are not easy to do," Larson said.

Larson often draws inspiration from historical references, often combining different parts of historical photographs to create a character. A lot of his work is based on Egyptian mythology, though he also carves portraits of current people, such as singer Taylor Swift.

Recently, Larson entered five of his pieces into the Red River Valley Wood Arts Festival in Fargo, his first woodcarving festival. Each of his entries ended up earning an award. "I'm truly amazed how well I did," he said.

Each piece can take anywhere from a few to a few hundred hours. A small caricature, "I can carve them in around 10 to 15 hours and get it pretty well finished up."

He said his favorite part is "when it all comes together," but that's easier said than done. It can be difficult to know when a piece is finished, he said. "You don't quit until there is nothing left to do." He worked on a piece for over a year and at the festival, "the judge that told me that I wasn't done yet," he said. While reexamining the piece, he noticed a few spots that were not smooth to the touch.

While Larson has completed nearly 100 pieces, he also has a few that end up as designer firewood. "There's just a few that just plain don't make it," he said.

Larson's goal in the field is "to try and keep getting better," he said, "I'm still getting better so now I will have to try to get to the point where I'm not getting better anymore, and then make a decision, of quitting or watching my work go down."

He also finds woodcarving to be a very relaxing hobby, without any pressure, "when I get it done, I get it done; if I don't, I don't," he said.

The Bemidji Woodcarvers' Clubs meets from 9 a.m. to noon every Wednesday in the basement of Senior Activity Center, 216 Third St. NW. All levels of skills are welcome to attend.

Maggi Stivers

Maggi Stivers is a Multi-Media Journalist at the Bemidji Pioneer. She covers art and entertainment in the Bemidji area. She is a 2013 Bemidji State graduate majoring in mass communications with a minor in sociology. Contact her at (218) 333-9790 or

(218) 333-9790