By Veronica Sandate Craker
Local artist Juan Marin can spend anywhere from 25 to 50 hours working on a woodchip carving.
So, it’s probably a good thing that his bosses at Energy Northwest allow him some downtime to work on his art while on duty.
“I was allowed to carve and I still am at Energy Northwest,” said Marin, who has worked as a security officer for the company since 1987.
In chip carving, small knives and chisels are used to carve out a design in flat piece of wood.
It was while learning his craft at work that Marin met Leroy Householder, an experienced woodcarver who is known as “Hoho” by his friends.
“I hounded him until he would allow me to do some chip carving with him,” Marin said.
After learning a little from Householder, Marin took a two-day class in Post Falls, Idaho and then a weeklong class in Ludlow, Vt. where he received instruction by Wayne Barton, a professional woodcarver who owns The Alpine School of Woodcarving, Ltd.
“It was 10 to 12 hours of carving and bonding with other students, learning how to etch our designs from the environment and to put it on a piece of wood,” Marin said. “From there it’s just been crazy.”
Since then, Marin has made more than 300 carvings, sold numerous pieces and earned chip-carving awards in local and international competitions.
Marin earned first- and second-place finishes in the Tri-Cities Wood Carving Association competitions and has competed on the international circuit, placing third in chip carving and fourth in relief carving.
When relief carving the artist carves into a piece of flat wood making it appear to rise out of the piece.
His three-dimensional designs are so intricate that it’s hard to believe he’s only been wood carving professionally for eight years.
Marin still remembers the first piece he ever sold. A coworker asked him to carve a Sturgis bull, a common symbol linked to the annual South Dakota motorcycle rally.
“He gave me a t-shirt with a picture on it,” Marin said. “I put it on the copy machine and then I did a bunch of scroll saw at the time so I scroll sawed it out and then I carved the inside and put the Harley Davidson on the top,” Marin said.
Marin had never sold his woodwork art before and was unsure how much to charge his friend. So he told him to pay him what he thought the piece was worth.
“It was my first sell and it was $100,” Marin said. “I was excited. Very excited.”
Today Marin’s pieces can range in price from $100 to $4,000. The majority of his work is sold to friends and other artists.
“People come and see what I’m doing all the time and they buy a piece and then they buy another piece because they liked the first piece so much,” Marin said.
Recently, after a fellow chip carver, David Carlson, passed away, Carlson’s widow approached Marin to carve a design on a box that was made by Carlson as a memento.
“She knew my style, so she gave me this challenge,” he said. “She likes it so much she wants another box.”
Marin’s signature geometric designs wrap around the box and Carlson’s name is also hand carved on the outside.
Other special orders include a cowbell handle he designed for a Tri-City Americans fan.
“He called me up and said ‘hey I need a handle. I know you do good stuff, I want it to be unique,’ so I came up with cocobolo wood,” Marin said.
The cocobolo wood, a rich, red-orange tropical hardwood from Central America, had the words “Americans” laser engraved on the handle with an American flag on the bottom.
Despite being well known for his hand carved boxes, Marin can also create designs on staffs, rocking chairs and hand mirrors. He has also made wine bottle holders, retirement and wedding plaques.
He’s even made plaques for Energy Northwest workers who’ve gone off into retirement.
And when it’s his turn to say goodbye to the company, Marin plans to continue carving.
“This is something I am going to keep doing after I leave Energy Northwest when I retire,” Marin said. “I’m happy and excited to make those pieces happen.”
To view some of Marin’s work, visit www.marinchipcarving.com.