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PORTAGE — A couple of the woodcarvings Mike Allen had on display Sunday earned him blue ribbons during the weekend's 42nd annual Duneland Woodcarvers Show at Woodland Park.

But the Bellevue, Ohio, resident did not have any of his carvings for sale, unlike many of the other show participants around him.

"I'm mainly here to promote woodcarving," he said.

Allen said he has been carving for 23 years and began at the urging of his wife, who correctly thought it would provide him with a nice distraction from work. She purchased some starting tools and lessons for Christmas.

"It was the best gift I ever got," he said.

While the long-running local show has outlived many others, the number of participants continue to dwindle, according to show chairman and Duneland Woodcarvers board member George Sarver.

"A lot of your woodcarvers are older," he said.

And as they hang up their tools for a final time, there are not many young people stepping up to take their place, Sarver said.

The local club is trying to combat this loss by offering a meeting time more accessible to young people from 9:30 to 11:30 a.m. on the first and third Saturdays of each month at the Hobby Lobby store at 2782 E. 79th Ave. in Merrillville, he said.

The weekend show attracted 45 carvers, Sarver said.

Karen Brown said she drove two hours each day from Alaska, Michigan, to take part in the local show.

While enjoying a wide variety of art forms, Brown was primarily featuring her gourd carvings Sunday. Her display included a large gourd transformed into a lighted peacock that won her a blue ribbon in the gourd category.

Brown said she learned how to make art out of gourds several years ago after unexpectedly being given seeds and finding herself with a big crop. In addition to the growing time, the gourds must be dried out for six months and then hollowed out if so desired.

Barbara Ziolkowski, of New Carlisle, Indiana, has also found an uncommon source for her art — sewing thread spools.

She said she picked up the skill 20 years ago when approached to do some work and has tailored it into an artful way of telling someone's story with a few images in-the-round.

"I'm the nutty spool carver," she joked.

As with the art of woodcarving itself, Ziolkowski said her medium-of-choice is starting to disappear. Most thread spools are now made of plastic or styrofoam rather than wood, she said.

But with an estimated 1,500 wooden spools collected at home and more being given to her all the time, Ziolkowski said she is not afraid of running out of materials to express herself anytime soon.


Porter/LaPorte county reporter

Bob is a 23-year veteran of The Times. He covers county government and courts in Porter County, federal courts, police news and regional issues. He also created the Vegan in the Region blog, is an Indiana University grad and lifelong region resident.