The Woodward News

October 30, 2013

Wood carving focus of show

Rowynn Ricks
Woodward News

Woodward, Okla. — Mike Wagar, of Nash, sees opportunity in surprising places.

For example, when he injured his back several years ago, Wagar saw it as an opportunity to develop his hobby as a wood worker.

Wagar already had a long history of working with wood, from working with a master carpenter/cabinet maker after college in the 1960s to getting his first wood lathe from his grandparents in the 1970s.

And he was always looking for ways to learn how to enhance his craft whether it was under the tutelage of Dr. Jerry Brownrigg at NWOSU in Alva or through woodcarving demonstrations at tool shows.

It was at one such tool show in Tulsa in 2003 that Wagar saw a former dentist using a repurposed dental drill to carve wood.

"And I thought I could do it too and I just had to have that tool," he said.

But when he first started trying to use the tool on his own, he couldn't get his carvings to come out the way he wanted.

Then he hurt his back.  And that's when he decided to take classes to hone his woodcarving techniques.

The dentist he had bought the carving drill from had told him about an artist named Keith Hone in Payson, Utah, who could teach him how to use the tool.

"The reason I started doing the carving is because I had back surgery and couldn't farm, but I needed something to do," Wagar said.  "So I went out there, to Utah, and that's how I got started."

Wagar originally went to take a course in carving gunstocks.

"Then I saw this guy at Payson carving a door panel and that intrigued me, and I said, 'ah, that's what I want to do,'" he said.

It didn't hurt that his wife Carol saw the same door carving and fell in love with it as well.

"I saw that door with all its birds and birds nest and said 'I want a door like that.  I don't want gunstocks, I want a door,'" Carol said.

Soon she got her wish as her husband carved an image of an eagle in flight on the door to their vacation cabin in Cuchara, Colo.  He has since carved more door panels, including one featuring a covey of quail for the front door of his son's home, and all using a modified dentist drill for the detail work.

But door panels are just one type of many wooden creations that Wagar enjoys making.

Using his own saw mill, lathe and, yes, modified dentist drill, Wagar has spent countless hours crafting everything from vases and wine holders to bowls and jars to writing pens and cross ornaments.

And Wagar remembers the story of each piece of wood, from where he got the wood to how he discovered the grain patterns hidden just below the bark to how he captured the beauty of each unique grain in each unique work of handcrafted art.

He can tell you about the piece of African teakwood that was destined for a fireplace, but he rescued to transform into a beautiful decorative plate.  Or the elm tree a woman was cutting down from her yard that he rescued to make into an asymmetrical bowl that highlights a beautiful burl in the wood.

The public will have the opportunity to hear some of these stories and visit with this talented woodworker during an artist's reception this Saturday in honor of Wagar's upcoming show at the Plains Indians and Pioneers Museum.

The reception will be held from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday at the museum.  Wagar's show, which is titled "Wagar Woods," will be on display in the museum's art gallery through November 30.

In addition to 2 of his hand-carved door panels and 29 different hand-turned pieces he created using his lathe out of all sorts of woods, the show will feature coffee tables that he created out of walnut harvested from family land in Grant County and sawn at his own saw mill.

The show will also include samples of his smaller gift items, such as writing pens with handles made of various woods or even deer antlers.

And because woodcarving isn't Wagar's only artistic pursuit, the show will also feature samples of his wildlife photography.  The images on display include scenes of animals and plants which Wagar captured with his 2 Sony digital cameras at various locations in Oklahoma, Colorado and Arkansas.

But whether it is a photograph of Colorado aspens in their golden autumn beauty or a carefully carved image of a buck walking through the woods or a painstakingly turned bowl of one-of-a-kind Jarrow wood from Australia, Wagar said all his art is about one thing: expressing the beauty of nature.

So for those who come to visit his show at the museum, he said, "I hope they'll enjoy the beauty of it, the beauty of the flowers and the animals and of the grain of the wood.  Because that's what I mainly do it for."

While he has displayed his work in other art shows and trade shows, Wagar said this will be his first solo museum exhibit and he is excited about "just getting to show."

His wife Carol said his favorite thing is sharing his art with others.

"He always likes it when other people can enjoy what he does," she said.  "He comes in from spending hours working in the shop and wants people to come see what he's been working on because he wants to share the beauty of the wood."

"I do love it when others appreciate a piece I have completed," Wagar said.  "I hope I have caused some to look at a tree in a new light and to notice the character and beauty created by nature."