Every Friday morning, men and women fill the annex of the Senior Center, in Picayune, ready and eager to hone their new Wood Carving skills.
John Houston, who has been carving himself for nearly 20 years, started the class at the Senior Center of South Pearl River County seven years ago.
As the instructor of the course, he mostly lets the students decide what they want to create, offering technical advice and is always ready and willing to assist when needed.
Houston said he originally became interested in starting the class as another option for men at the center, however women make up about half of the participants today.
“We actually have as many women as we do men, and the women actually do better at it than some of the men, they really do,” Houston said. “If they (the women) have a ‘want to’ to try to do it they just jump in it and go gang busters.”
The top of a walking stick in progress by Linda Bowen.
Linda Bowen is one of those women. Bowen makes walking sticks to give to friends and family members who may need them, and after attending the class for just over a year she has a Pinterest page full of her finished creations.
“Why I got started is because I retired two years ago and after being home a year my daughter in law told me about this place,” Bowen said. “And now I love it.”
Houston said his classes range between 25-30 students, on all different skill levels, and to see his students blossom creatively has been very rewarding.
Many of the carvers taking the class have won awards at local competitions. They also sell what they make on the side, give them as gifts or keep them for their own collections.
“It’s something you create with your hands and when you finish you have something to show for it,” Jim Fornea, a member of the class said. “All these will probably be my grandkids one day.”
Creation by Jim Fornea
Fornea who teaches art at the Senior Center as well, has been carving for most of his life but says he has gotten a lot out of the class and Houston’s instruction.
“John is a very good instructor,” Fornea said. “He’s extremely helpful.”
“John is a good, good teacher,” Bowen said. “He won’t take credit for it but he’s good because I’ve had to ask quite a few questions and he’s always helpful.”
Not only does woodworking help with dexterity and mobility, it also works his students’ minds, Houston said. For many of the seniors in the class it is a way to keep their minds fresh and continue to work towards a goal or an accomplishment.
“It just gives me something to do to keep going, it keeps me busy,” Jack Dolan, a first time carver, said. “Just different things to stay busy, that’s all it’s about now and of course I enjoy the outcome.”
Houston explains that there is more to carving than just artistic talent, its a skill that can be honed with practice.
“It’s a learned skill, some people are just naturally more talented at art but everything we do in here is just a learned skill, and the more you do it the better you get at it.” Houston said. “It’s the feeling of accomplishing something and achieving something as well. We encourage them to do it as well as they can and if we feel like they can do it better we encourage them do it better. When they leave and it’s all painted out and finished they are ready to go show it to people. They are quite proud of it.”
The class is open to all Seniors and is held every Friday morning at 9:00 a.m.