Bunnie Sheets doesn't know how long it takes to carve most of her pieces. When the mood strikes, which some days is as early at 4:30 a.m., the 74-year-old simply turns on some music and whittles the time away as she transforms a block of wood into something of specified beauty. She works in her workshop garage with numerous Dremel tools and dust vacuums, and at her painting station, which includes an airbrush. After a fall about four years ago that led to a total left shoulder replacement, carving by hand became a thing of the past, but Sheets' passion did not. She easily traded in her knives and gouges for power tools.
"I got hooked," Sheets said with a smile.
Sheets discovered woodcarving about two decades ago after retirement left her with a world of free time. She and her late husband, Don, moved here from Blue Island, Ill., after Don retired in 1983 from firefighting. Once everything was unpacked in their new home, "there was nothing to do," Sheets said.
She saw an advertisement for a woodcarving class, and in time she developed a knack for it. Now she shares her knowledge of the craft with others, including a class she now teaches at the CARES Rao Musunuru M.D. Enrichment Center. Her works will be among the hundreds of woodcarvings on display this weekend at the 31st annual Calusa Wood Carvers Club Show and Sale at Veterans Memorial Park.
Sheets often tells newcomers to woodcarving: "If you can peel potatoes you can carve." She and others in the Calusa Wood Carvers Club hope this weekend's show stirs more interest in the hobby. Children and adults who want to give carving a try can try their hand using plastic knives and soap during one of many seminars.
"We're hoping they're branching to wood," said club publicity chairwoman Charlotte Pierce, also 74.
Being that her name is Bunnie — born on Easter — it's no surprise Sheets' favorite subject is animals of all kinds, including a Texas jack rabbit. She also favors American Indian pieces, and if it weren't for their small size, her intricate moccasin carvings would look ready to slip into. At times she enjoys adding a touch of whimsy to her creations, like the bottom-up duck that appears to be diving for food. A sign planted on the driftwood base reads, "Lunch Time." But even this fun piece has the most delicate details with cattails made of sawdust and their wooden leaves carved nearly paper thin.
Sheets' creations fill her home, including her recent first-place winner at the Florida State Fair of a wolf head carving merged with a black and white painting of a forest. It appears the wolf is leaping out of the trees.
Sheets uses photographs for inspiration for detail and carefully researches each subject before she puts metal to wood. She wants her pieces to be lifelike. She continues to amaze herself with what she can do, and once a project is complete, she sits back and reflects on it with a smile.
"I did it!" she often thinks.
It's that satisfaction, that feeling of joy, the wood carvers want others to experience, which is a big reason why they have their annual show.
"We don't want the art of wood carving to die out and we're getting to that point," said Pierce. "We just need new blood."
David Gourley, 68, president of the club, said while they still have 77 members, it's down well below the more than 100 they used to have. The ailing economy has played a big role in that, he said. Not only do people not have the money for supplies, but many Calusa Wood Carvers members are seasonal residents and they can no longer afford to come back to Florida.
Sheets, who also carves toys with the ToyMakers, a not-for-profit group that provides wooden toys to sick and underprivileged children, says she has run out of room with all of her carvings. She said says when her adult children — two daughters and two sons — get together, they draw numbers from a bowl that correspond to her carvings. This summer, Sheets says, she'll pack them up for her children.
And then, she said, she can start filling her home with new carvings.