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When Elesa Osman and her husband Neal first moved to Sylva, N.C., more than 10 years ago from Illinois, they saw trees that were being cleared from the road. Not wanting the wood to go to waste, Osman gathered some of the long sticks. She decided to make use of the wood – to turn it into something beautiful.
Osman asked for and received a beginner’s wood carving set from her husband for Christmas in 1996, and soon after took lessons to master the craft. She was guided by many different artists, including John Chandler of N.C. who started out carving with shards of glass as a young boy. Osman says that Chandler “took a liking” to her and would often say to the rest of the class, “she seems to know what she’s doing.” The oldest carver in her class happened to be 94 years old – “he only regretted not starting sooner!”
Osman usually spends anywhere from two to six months (although usually closer to six) on each carving. “If it only takes me two months to finish, I usually scratch my head and wonder why.”
Osman sometimes carves past midnight, and says that it’s not unusual for her to carve up to 12 hours a day. She and her husband, a woodturner (who shapes wood on a lathe), do all of their woodwork in a garage area that is devoted strictly to the craft. Osman occupies one corner, her husband the other.
Osman has carved dogs, cats, weasels, ducks, lions, donkeys, deer and bears. “You start to wish you could think of more animals!” she jokes.
Osman asks her clients to provide her with at least 15 different photographs of their pets, showing them from different angles. Due to the distortions of pictures, she needs multiple photographs to carve each animal as accurately as possible.
“My goal is to make [each carving] look so real [that it looks as if] it is about to breathe, get up, and walk away.” If a particular carving seems to be missing something that Osman can’t quite put her finger on, she will examine it thoroughly to discover what’s missing. One carving of a Saint Bernard had her stumped for a few days until she realized she needed to add more detail to its jaw line.
Osman uses many different tools, including a gauge, chisel and knife. “You have to use the right tool for the right cut.” The most difficult part of each carving process for her is the eyes.
There are many different types of woodcarving, and Osman says the great thing about it is that the area is limitless in what one can do. Osman doesn’t consider woodcarving to be necessarily a fine art or a craft, but rather it can be both.
Apart from woodcarving, Osman and her husband enjoy hiking – so much that they hike at least once a week, even during the winter. She also likes to take scenic drives all over western North Carolina to take in its differing beauty each season.
Osman and her husband say their move from Illinois to Sylva is “the one thing in life we know we did right.”