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Woodcarvers put finishing touches on trolls and more

Student Byron Knaap puts touches of paint to "Sparky," the whimsical Scandinavian character he was laboring over. (Sarah Smith / Enterprise)1 / 4
A Santa carving is typical of the art form: huge feet, an oversized nose and teensy slits for eyes. All carvers wear gloves. (Sarah Smith / Enterprise)2 / 4
Pam Janssen of Shevlin works on her carving. She said," Harley's a good teacher." Many carvers found the Scandinavian art enjoyable. (Sarah Smith / Enterprise)3 / 4
Bill Dahl played his hand-carved nyckelharpa, a Swedish keyed fiddle. He'll play it in concert June 25 on the courthouse lawn. (Sarah Smith / Enterprise)4 / 4

The room in the library basement rippled with Scandinavian humor, folklore and the sound of knives whittling wood.

Wednesday afternoon it was graduation day for 15 Loon Country Carvers. They were completing a caricature class, three days of carving trolls, whimsical Santas and gnarly gnomes.

Big noses, big feet and big hands characterize the Scandinavian art of flat plane carving.

The finished characters can charm even the hardest soul.

"This is what he's supposed to look like when it's done," said carver Connie Henderson, squinting at a 4-inch figure named Carl Oskar.

Carl, a cartoon-ized and miniature version of Paul Bunyan, sported a schnoz that could have perched Babe.

Red plaid shirt and blue jeans with ginormous round-toed hunting boots.

He was killer cute.

The club members, most of which carve more traditional ducks, loons and nature-themed renderings, quickly adapted to the quirky little people they were shaping out of basswood.

"It's been a lot of fun," classmates said almost universally.

"This is a minimalist style," said carver Bob Keezer."You're used to rounding off" facial features, carving curves.

"This is Sparky," introduced Byron Knaap to the character taking shape in his hands.

Carvers were using watered down acrylic paints to color the characters. Details were added with fine-tip permanent markers.

"This is my first caricature," said Jill Geisen Clack. "It's a ball!"

The class, funded by the Region II Arts Council, was taught by Luther College professor of Scandinavian art Harley Refsal.

Classes were a mix of folklore, history, humor and trivia.

Graduation ceremonies featured a table of Norwegian, Swedish and Danish delicacies.

They even featured live music, compliments of Bill Dahl and his carved nyckelharpa, a Swedish keyed fiddle.

The 16-stringed instrument has wooden keys that look like they could hold a golf ball. They're attached to frets that change the strings' pitch. A dinky horsehair bow drew a melancholy sound from the instrument

Tucked neatly into the instrument's neck were colorful earplugs,

"I use them for when I have to sit next to a guy playing the accordion," Dahl joked. Actually, he uses them to muffle the sounds of some of the strings when he tunes the nyckelharpa.

"I have four Cs on this. I don't need to hear them all when I'm tuning one," Dahl said. "Oh, five Cs."

Fingers carved away as guests nibbled on richly sugared treats and viewed the carving projects the club had on display.

No one's quite sure how old the carving club is.

"Let's see," said Chuck Yliniemi. "I've been carving 20+ years and some people were here when I came. The club hasn't got any real structure. There are no dues. We normally meet Mondays. There might be two people, there might be 15."

Norm Arneson, a carver since 1983, loved the art form of making the tiny characters with the exaggerated features.

"It's much easier to do the eyes," he said, noting the horizontal slits in Carl's face where eyeballs would normally be.

"It's a good project, a wonderful project."

On the display table Arneson's two traditional loon carvings strutted their feathers next to a carved prickly pear cactus. He winters in Arizona.

"It's been a wonderful group," Refsal said. "I enjoy teaching it but the level of enjoyment is different for Scandinavians."

Carving techniques are embedded in culture, historic roots and the languages.

The soft-spoken professor is actually internationally known for his craft. He travels regularly to Scandinavian countries and speaks fluent Norwegian.

He got high marks from his students.

It's been a mot of fun," Janssen said. "Harley's a good teacher."

The creatures got covered with one coat of beeswax to seal the wood.

Then they all stood at attention, an eclectic collection of goofballs.

If you notice a proliferation of pint-sized trolls, gnomes and single-toothed creatures at upcoming craft shows, you'd be crazy to pass them by.

They just make you smile, even if it's only through a single bucktooth.

Sarah Smith

Sarah Smith is the outdoors editor. She covers courts, business and breaking news in addition to outdoors events.

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