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Artist spotlight: the art of wood carving

SELF-TAUGHT WOODCARVER Cleva Friel poses at a table she and partner Jeff Shaw made. The pair display and sell their products at the 4th Avenue Gallery as well as at their shop, Sawdust Dreams.
SELF-TAUGHT WOODCARVER Cleva Friel poses at a table she and partner Jeff Shaw made. The pair display and sell their products at the 4th Avenue Gallery as well as at their shop, Sawdust Dreams. C. Moore photos

Cailey Moore
Staff Writer

Multitudes of displays – each home to a unique blend of wares handcrafted by local artisans – line the floor of the 4th Avenue Gallery in Marlinton. Colorful quilts are draped across hand-carved wooden racks, while nature-based works – such as fairy houses and pine needle baskets – reside on a nearby shelf. Aromatic candles, lotions and soaps fill the gallery with scents of home, and a friendly face is always there to welcome guests.

“The majority of our artists are local and have either lived here their entire life or have moved away and came back,” Pocahontas County Artisan Cooperative artist Cleva Friel said. “We have everything from jewelry makers and quilters to potters and stone carvers. We run the whole gambit.”

Friel, a Marlinton native and resident woodworker, is one of the many artisans who was born and raised within the boundaries Pocahontas County.

Her initial interest in working with wood began in her grandfather’s workshop. There, she would spend countless hours watching as her grandfather – a musician – crafted his own banjos, dulcimers and more.

However, it was not until, years later, when Friel took a trip to Tennessee that she discovered where her passions truly lay. Inspired by a woodcarver in the midst of his craft, Friel gathered as many books on the subject as she could and began the journey to become a self-taught woodcarver.

“I’ve just always been around wood,” she said. “As soon as I saw the artist at work, I fell in love with what he was doing. I’m self-taught for the most part.”

The majority of Friel’s carvings can be found on benches, coat racks and tables, but she does not craft the entire piece on her own. Working alongside partner Jeff Shaw, of Sawdust Dreams, Friel is one half of a handcrafted, hand-carved duo.

Shaw builds furniture by hand, and as he finishes each piece, Friel begins her work. Using chisels and other wood carving tools, she carves each piece by hand. The amount of time each carving takes varies, but once finished, Friel highlights her work with colorful acrylics and uses different stains to create an illusion of depth.

One bench available in the gallery depicts an early Marlinton landscape – featuring a black and red locomotive drawing to a stop at the Marlinton depot with mountains rising in the distance. Utilizing a “low relief” carving technique, Friel left the mountainous background flat and created a three-dimensional effect by chiseling a raised depot and train.

When she is not carving, Friel can be found painting West Virginia animals – such as cardinals, deer, raccoons and more – on turkey feathers and colorful autumn leaves.

“It’s a very delicate work,” she said of the process. “Feathers have a mind of their own, and leaves can be just as fickle.”

In order to become a member of the Artisan Co-op, Friel had to undergo a juried joining process. Photos of her work, along with an application, were submitted for review. Once it was determined that her work would be a nice addition to the gallery, Friel submitted actual examples of her work for a more in-depth review.

“Once your products have been reviewed, you are either voted in, or if something needs improved upon, they’ll work with you to get you where you need to be,” she added.

Shaw and Friel became juried members of the Pocahontas County Artisan Co-op in April 2013.

In addition to the 4th Avenue Gallery – whose doors are open year-round – the co-op has two seasonal locations. The Shops of Leatherbark Ford, located near the Cass Scenic Railroad State Park depot, operates during the spring and summer seasons, while the Silver Creek Gallery, located in Silver Creek Lodge, opens its doors during the winter months.

The Pocahontas County Artisan Co-op operates out of the 4th Avenue Gallery – located at 721 Fourth Avenue in Marlinton – and is open Wednesday through Monday, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. The gallery can be reached at 304-799-2550.

First in a series of spotlights highlighting artisans within the county.

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