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HERNANDO AND CITRUS COUNTY

 

Wood Carving is Bernie Schank’s Niche

By Donna Vavala

Bernie Schank was never one to sit around and do nothing. At age 75, nothing’s changed. Drive past his Inverness home, and you’ll see many of the wood items he’s handcrafted over the years in his front yard. There’s everything from a life-sized, one-legged pirate to hand-carved benches to alligators, birds, snakes—even a totem pole. You will also see his eye-popping cherry red van advertising his hobby/business and topped by wooden gators and a fish sitting in the drive.

Bernie never fails to turn heads on the road either. Some folks are so enamored, they honk and wave him over to get a better look and to buy something. Even on I-75.

“Yeah, I’ve made more than one sale on I-75,” he admitted, with an impish grin.

Originally from Wisconsin, Bernie grew up on a dairy farm. Even then, he was making things from stuff laying around the yard. After his dad saw the boy had talent, he bought him a table jig saw at age 10. He also whittled small art pieces for fun, but he was never a full-time artist until after he retired after selling his businesses and moving to Florida.

Bernie is proud to say he has never had to buy wood to support his hobby.

“Mostly, I get wood after storms and stuff tree cutters leave behind,” he said. “I also get it from firewood piles.”

Hurricane Irma was very good to him.

“That was probably the most wood I’ve ever had at one time,” he recalled.

In addition to all his wood yard items and those in his truck, Bernie also has a garage and shed chock full of items he’s crafted. Against a back wall is a large wooden china cabinet loaded with his miniature pieces. There are shelf after shelf of dozens of tiny people and wee animals, all intricately hand whittled. Some are painted, some not. He said he’s sold more golfers than anything else.

In 2003, Bernie started doing arts and crafts shows in Wildwood. His most popular items are benches, chairs, manatees, alligators and birds. His small lawn birds are among his least expensive items at $30 each.

The longest it has ever taken Bernie to complete an item was when he made an eagle with a five-foot wing span (which is currently hanging in a barn in Hernando).

“I made it out of a plank, and the most time-consuming part was carving all those feathers,” he said.

The most expensive piece Bernie ever made was a $2,000 bench that had five large fish carved into it.

Bernie spends most of his time now fashioning large pieces, especially benches because “that’s where the money is.” He said he used to work up to eight hours a day at his hobby but, as he has aged, he has reduced his workdays to about five hours.

“I’ve been very fortunate,” he said. “I don’t have any arthritis.”

“I can make a bench in a day,” he said. “A small bench takes two to three days to carve and paint and is priced from $350.”

So how does he decide what design to use?

“I let the wood tell me what it should be,” Bernie said. “Every piece of wood is handpicked.”

Bernie’s next craft show will be at the Fiddler Crab Festival, in Steinhatchee, FL, Feb. 16-17-18. More locally, he will have a booth at the Floral City Strawberry Festival, March 4 and 5, at the park in Floral City.

 

The cover and inside photos were taken by Chelsie Budd, who attends Citrus High School. We wanted to help a student get exposure for their work. She was selected by her photophy teacher, Miss Boudreau.

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