In a garage-turned-art shop on a plot of forested mountainside west of Rathdrum, Bruce Wright nimbly worked his hands over a wooden disc almost as wide as a dinner table.
Wright, dressed in blue slacks and suspenders, hunched over the thick slab of red alder as classical music drifted out of the building’s large sliding doors.
He gripped a chisel and carefully carved a letter out of the perimeter of the piece, a hand-carved presidential seal 34 inches across and weighing 20 pounds; the 66-year-old retired steel welder was a study in dexterity and deliberate craftsmanship.
“I can’t really draw that well,” Wright, a Colville native, confessed as he took a break from carving to show some examples of the pieces he’s made through the years, many of which adorn the inside of the Rathdrum-area home he shares with his wife, Paula.
“But I’ve always liked to carve. I got into it about 20 years ago, and after I retired, I started doing it again.” About the work in progress, he added, “We voted for President Obama, so I thought I’d do something to commemorate his election. I’m proud of America, and I think we’re proud because that means anybody can be elected.”
He’s already 60 hours into the seal and has at least another 40 to go before it’s finished. Wright’s wooden works often take weeks to complete since he does everything without the aid of power tools. Despite the hours he puts into each hand-carved sculpture, he often gives them away to friends and family or donates them to businesses in the community.
A Vietnam veteran who served two tours of duty in his 11 years with the Marines, Wright carved seven service emblems and gave them to the Spokane Veterans Affairs Medical Center, where he has been a patient since 1973.
Kathy Kovalesky, acting chief of voluntary service at the medical center, said, “We’ve been very impressed with his work, and he’s donated everything he’s made to us. It’s just gorgeous, and it’s really a talent.”
To memorialize the 29th National Veterans Wheelchair Games held recently in Spokane, Kovalesky asked Wright if he’d be interested in creating a plaque that would remain in the medical center’s entryway, where it will join the rest of his carvings as they welcome patients and visitors to the center. “We were just amazed at the beauty of his work, and when we asked Bruce to make one for the Veterans Wheelchair Games, he jumped at the chance,” Kovalesky said.
Wright said it was an honor to make the wheelchair-emblazoned plaque, especially because he credits the center’s care, along with the support of his wife of 40 years, in helping him overcome stomach cancer in the 1980s. “I thought it was a privilege to do that. It honors the veterans’ past. We want them to know – the older Vietnam and Korea vets – what they have gone through and what they are going to go through, and that we respect them and want to help them.”
In the next few weeks, Wright and his wife will try to and figure out how to ship the engraved presidential seal to the White House, which they estimate will cost a few hundred dollars. “If it’s not something they want, then at least it will make good kindling,” Wright said jokingly.
A cry for help
A group of neighbors descended Tuesday night on Spokane Valley City Hall to ask for help with a problem neighbor they say they have been dealing with for 20 years.
The group’s spokeswoman, Maureen Ramos, told the council that a house in the 12900 block of East 26th Avenue is unsightly. The house, yard and garage are filled with years of trash, junk cars and boats. Neighbors have complained frequently over the years. “It’s a safety hazard,” Ramos said. “It’s a fire hazard.”
Ramos said she recently called police because of smells coming from the home, which turned out to be rotting garbage. “We are begging you to help us,” she said. “It has been a nightmare.”
Mayor Rich Munson promised to have city staff investigate the situation and take steps to fix it. “This will not be forgotten.”
The group of neighbors broke out into applause at his words. “Bless you,” Ramos said.