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Woodcarvers help novices hone skills at North Pinellas community centers

Bob Marek sat at a table in the Palm Harbor Community Center, facing a small block of wood.

The wood carver was in his element amidst both the means and the ends of his craftsmanship.

On hand was a large cloth receptacle, each compartment crammed with knives, gouges and other small tools. On a nearby table stood blocks of wood and bottles of paint.

The small block of wood facing Marek, 72, that morning was on its way to becoming a bunny rabbit. Referring to a drawing, the craftsman carved the image on two sides.

"It's like there's a little rabbit inside the block of wood trying to get out," said Joe Mirman of Palm Harbor, visiting the woodcarving class for the first time.

Marek, a lifelong lover of wood, is committed to sharing decades of accrued skills with others. He teaches 10 classes a week in eight community centers throughout Pinellas County, as well as in two retirement homes.

Both he and his wife, Carol, began woodworking as a hobby in the early 1980s, but Bob Marek's history with wood goes back 60 years, to his grandfather's farm in Nebraska.

"My grandfather was a European master," he said. "I slept under his work bench, swept the floors and learned all he had to teach."

The two carved valances for windows, claw-footed table legs and wood trim for homes.

Woodworking took a back seat until the late '70s, at which time Marek served as the supervisor for the city of Clearwater's nursery division, a job he held for 15 years.

"I started carving as a hobby during those years," said Marek, who lives in Safety Harbor with his wife.

Carol Marek, 70, followed her husband into the woodworking hobby, but prefers wood burning, or wood shading, to carving. After years of practice, she now etches scenes with intricate details, combining ideas from various illustrations.

That morning she worked on a tree scene, several squirrels peeking out from lush maple leaves, meticulously etched on a clean slice of a birch tree log. The piece, destined for a fair entry, will take 30 hours to complete.

Bob Marek specializes in playful caricatures and religious figures, all carved from American basswood.

"It's straight-grained, holds detail well and is pretty easy to work with," he said of his favorite wood.

He needs about 15 hours to produce a 6-inch animal.

Tom Arnhart, a winter resident of Tarpon Springs from Tennessee, was carving a small, comical figure based on one of Marek's creations.

"If Bob sets something in front of me to look at, I can carve it on my own," he said.

Arnhart expressed the sentiment of other students in the class.

"It's good therapy," he said, "and I just enjoy it."

If you go

Bob and Carol Marek sell their work at wood craft shows throughout the state. The Mareks teach their woodworking specialties at the Hale Activity Center in Dunedin, Highland Recreation Center in Largo, Long Center in Clearwater, Cypress Forest Recreation Center in Oldsmar, Palm Harbor Community Center and other venues. For a complete list of places and hours, call (727) 726-7725.

Woodcarvers help novices hone skills at North Pinellas community centers 02/25/10 [Last modified: Thursday, February 25, 2010 8:03pm]
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