Paulette Humphrey's work begins with trips to Goodwill and the Salvation Army. She pores over boxes and wood with an artist's eye, looking for pieces worthy of being carved into something new.
Most wood carvers use bass wood for its malleability, but Humphrey isn't like most carvers. Many of her creations feature her favorite technique: layering watercolors over the wood after she wood burns and carves reliefs. Humphrey also makes jewelry and trinket boxes, which she gave as gifts this past Christmas to her nine grandchildren and first great-grandchild.
Humphrey is the featured carver at the 32nd annual Calusa Wood Carvers Show and Sale happening this weekend at Veterans Memorial Park in Hudson. Her jewelry and trinket boxes will be on display, along with a 3-foot-tall wizard doll that won a blue ribbon at this year's Florida State Fair, and one of her newest ventures: a treasure map that she wood-burned into leather.
"She's so good. It would amaze you . . . the stuff that she can do," Calusa Wood Carvers president David Gourley said. "She's a very talented lady."
Despite the numerous ribbons and accolades for her work, Humphrey is humble. "I still don't know why they chose me," said Humphrey, 64, with a chuckle.
Gourley is excited about showing off the work by Humphrey and her contemporaries at this year's show. "I'm amazed at the talent," Gourley said. "We've got airline pilots, we've got machinists, we've got pharmacists, but they're all wood carvers. They come from everywhere."
Humphrey and her husband, Terry, used to own a uniform store. Then the New Port Richey couple changed gears and began producing hand-sewn costumes, primarily Renaissance garb. Humphrey also paints and makes jewelry and dolls. Her inspiration comes from her grandfather, Paul John Knorr, an artist who "always had us sitting on his knee when we were little."
As a painter submitting her works to the Harness Tracks of America scholarship auction, Humphrey became an admirer of John Kittleman's wood carvings. Then one day about five years ago, during a walk with her husband, Humphrey stopped by Veterans Memorial Park. When she saw a flier for the Calusa Wood Carvers, she decided to start whittling.
She returned to the recreation center to attend Ed McCarthy's wood carving class and cut her finger in the first session. But Humphrey put on a pair of gloves and has been carving ever since.
In McCarthy's class, Humphrey crafted a cane topped with a dragon head and entered it in the Florida State Fair, where it won a blue ribbon. She gave the cane to her father, who kept it until he died. Now, the cane is Humphrey's most cherished carving. "It's something I'll keep forever," Humphrey said.
Humphrey serves as assistant librarian for the group of Calusa Wood Carvers who meet at the CARES center in Beacon Woods. Though she is responsible for maintaining and providing patterns for members, she doesn't like to follow them strictly in her own work.
"They tell me I just do whatever I want," Humphrey said. "I don't try to be perfect to the pattern, because that's someone else's work. I want it to be my own."
Samantha Fuchs can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 869-6235.