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Local carver shares his talent

Big Mantrap resident Bob Landrigan has developed unique style and techniques to recreate the state bird. (Jean Ruzicka / Enterprise)1 / 2
Wood meets whimsy at the hands of Bob Landrigan. This gremlin appears to be pondering life's idiosyncrasies. (Jean Ruzicka / Enterprise)2 / 2

Bob Landrigan's wizardry with wood began as a kid, his initial slingshot propelling his interest on to bows (willow) and arrows (lilac).

"I graduated to push carts," he joked of his hobby, born in his hometown of Herman. "And I've never stopped."

The Big Mantrap Lake resident's mediums have evolved through the years from watercolors to basketry, to his signature work - loons, carved from butternut.

The captivating artistry of his work engaged the "audience" at last year's Chili Challenge.

Bob, a Hubbard County Food Shelf volunteer, donated one of his loons for the raffle. Nearly $1,000 was raised via tickets sold for the work, some making significant donations in hopes of winning.

A second replica of the Minnesota state bird will once again be awarded to a lucky ticket holder Wednesday, March 7 at this year's Chili Challenge.

"Elaine is a big part of this," he said of his wife's assistance and flexibility. Stepping over a log soaking in the laundry room and black walnut husks steeping in odoriferous ammonium hydroxide (for stain) are among the impositions she's endured - graciously - over the years.

Bob's penchant for carving began in the early '70s, a room of fine Egyptian art in San Antonio, Texas captivating him. Generations work on a single piece of art, he said.

"I'm an anachronism, a throwback to a different age. Wood is almost a fetish," he said. "Cross out 'almost,'" he joked.

He "toyed with" herons and Canada geese, eyed totem poles and fish as subjects and was fascinated by works that evolved in the Pacific Northwest.

"I stopped," he said of his art odyssey. "It wasn't me."

The resident of Big Mantrap's Ladyslipper Point - a lake renowned for the residents' work to preserve the loon population - shifted his focus.

Seventy-two loons have "hatched" in his workshop, "a heavenly place on earth."

Actually, 73.

"The first loon I found in the fireplace," Elaine said. She salvaged it. Then she spotted it bound for the dump. Again, she retrieved it. "The third time, he succeeded. I felt so bad.

"He's a perfectionist..."

On average each of the birds requires 55 hours of time, a process of drawing, carving, staining, spraying with lacquer and buffing - while listening to music

But before he begins, he reads the wood, studying its grain and knots.

He generally works on three of the aquatic creatures at a time, spending two to five hours a day in his studio.

His first loon sold in 1989, on display in Lake George and St. Cloud. Then in 1991, he spoke with the owner of the Crab Net, an art gallery, in New Orleans. "Mail me three," he was told.

"That was the day I got to play with the big boys," he joked his burgeoning market.

Butternut is his wood of choice for the loons. When he learned of a blight affecting the tree in the late 1980s, he found a "wood pile" near Rushford and hauled it home. It's been slowly declining in size ever since.

The connoisseur of wood also collects rare finds.

"The loons," he said, "are my interpretation. In two heartbeats, you decide; you like it or you don't."

Tickets for the loon raffle will be sold at J&B Foods Fridays and at the Enterprise prior to the event. They will also be available at the Chili Challenge.