Gloria Strandquist never would have started carving had it not been for her exasperating master’s thesis in nursing.
“I was having a hard time with it. I was getting so discouraged. I was ready to quit,” the Valley woman remembers.
Luckily, before she began ripping her hair out, a friend handed her a chunk of balsa wood and ordered her to carve it into an elephant.
It was a hot Arizona afternoon, and as Strandquist sliced away, completely focused, her mind had a chance to clear. By the time she finished, she was completely relaxed. More important, she had figured out the problem with her thesis.
Twenty years later, Strandquist is teaching others about the pleasures of carving. The former nurse and nursing instructor has retired, and converted her basement into a workshop. With her partner, Joan Thiele, she runs a small carving supply shop. And she’s never been happier.
“I cannot draw a straight line,” Strandquist admitted.
But her gift for carving has earned her a box of blue and red ribbons and many dedicated students. Last year, her Santa carving won first place, best of division and best of intermediate awards in the annual Artistry in Wood competition. The show, sponsored by the Spokane Carvers Association and Inland Empire Carvers, attracts 250 to 300 entries annually.
“It’s so pleasurable,” said Strandquist, 64. “All of a sudden, you look at the clock and three hours have passed.”
Strandquist’s niche is in caricature carving. She likes the silly, exaggerated figures, whose big heads, noses and feet can bring smiles and laughs without a word or explanation.
“I’ll be sitting there carving, and I’ll hear someone giggle,” she said.
That’s when Strandquist knows she’s got it right.
Caricatures aren’t easier than realistic carvings, she said. In fact, Strandquist believes they’re more challenging.
A caricature carver must understand normal anatomy, she said, to get the exaggerations correct. In fact, Strandquist has taken lessons on everything from carving the female face to making realistic looking wrinkles on pants.
She admits, many of her attempts still end up in the fireplace.
But her students call her an inspiration.
She helped Gene Sneider, an accomplished Valley artist who once worked for Walt Disney, learn to do caricatures. She helped Dick Poffenroth make the transition from power tools to knives. She gave Gus Apsey, a newcomer to carving, the confidence to he needed to stick with it and succeed.
Apsey calls her workshop “a candy shop” for carvers.
By opening it up to students, including kids, Strandquist hopes to introduce as many people as possible to the craft.
“I like teaching others to find joy and confidence,” she said.
One of her most important tools is a small, sad-looking elephant carved in splintery balsa wood, which she enjoys sharing with her students.
In the end, Strandquist said, it gave her much more than a thesis.
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Photo
MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: Carving show Artistry in Wood ‘97, a carving show and sale featuring over 250 entries from artists around the country, will take place Oct. 4 and 5 at the Spokane Community College’s Lair Student Union. Show hours are 9 a.m to 5 p.m. on Oct. 4 and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Oct. 5. Admission is $3. The event is sponsored by the Spokane Carvers Association and the Inland Empire Carvers. (891-6931)