TWIN FALLS • The cheeks of the eight woodworkers glowed Christmas red.
Makes sense: They were sitting close to a huge, simmering cast-iron furnace inside Kathryn Peterson’s backyard carving studio Wednesday night.
It’s possible, too, they were glowing from sheer artistic concentration, holiday cheer and delicious homemade cookies.
Though officially retired, Peterson buries her fingers in a lot of pies these days: In warmer months, the military veteran runs a pontoon safety boat for BASE jumpers and other Snake River-area outdoor enthusiasts, commands the Stradley 5 chapter of the Twin Falls Disabled American Veterans, is on the honor guard for military funerals, and is an active member of the local Veterans of Foreign Wars and American Legion.
“I kind of do this as a community service,” she said, referring to her safety boat activities. But the statement could just as easily define her other activities — such as her informal weekly carving classes in the 1,200-square-foot wood building behind her small Twin Falls home on Filer Avenue.
Though she’s a bit hard to pin down on dates, Peterson, 64, said she has been carving seriously since about 1980. It wasn’t until 1991, however, that she learned one of her craft’s most valuable lessons.
While stationed in Germany near the end of her 12 years in the U.S. Navy — she’d been in the U.S. Air Force for eight years before her Navy stint — she was having trouble carving a plaque for a Navy chief.
“It was just harder than it should have been,” she said.
Turns out, she hadn’t recognized the most basic of woodcarver skills — one she said novice and some veteran carvers alike often overlook.
“I’d been sculpting all my life, but I didn’t know how to sharpen tools,” she recalled.
A master carver in a small German town nearby showed her the error of her ways, and Peterson ended up with a masterpiece.
“They (the Navy chief and others) were stunned,” she said. “They hadn’t known someone to go through that much work to make a plaque for someone.”
The local carvers in Peterson’s studio Wednesday night — beginners and veterans — know all about the rigors of woodworking, and they love it. Observe the carvers for just a short time, and you’ll come away with this concept: Dexterity, concentration and patience — the basic tenants required for any craft — are for these artisans also soothing, satisfying and challenging.
Carving-class participant Desiree Kuhn, 24, has been carving for a couple of years. She had completed about 75 percent of her current project, a rose fashioned inside an oval basswood frame. Her delight was obvious.
“The joys of doing this is to see the finished product and what you have accomplished,” she said. “As a beginner, my biggest challenge is making deep enough cuts, though amazingly it doesn’t take much strength.”
A table away, World War II veteran G. Schmidt, 86 — the elder statesman of the group — quietly observed. The longtime Twin Falls resident has been carving since 1988 and has earned the distinction “master carver,” a designation applied to his work, he said, by other carvers of equal stature.
“I like to carve large relief wall plaques about 28 inches by 40 inches,” Schmidt said. “Mostly I’m into Old European subjects. The designs have to flow, or I don’t like them.”
Carving is a challenge, Schmidt said, but the results justify the work.
“Every carving is a challenge to the carver, but they all feel real good when you finish,” he said. “And then, you can’t wait to begin the next one.”
Along the way, the friendships made with other carvers accentuate the positive attributes of the craft, he added.
“Carvers are a great bunch of people, and it’s a great hobby,” Schmidt said. “Learning is free. You just have to put your time in.”
Peterson certainly has.
Though her veteran’s activities have taken much of her time lately, the dedicated carver — who, by the way, doesn’t consider herself a “master” — carved her first large piece, a gorgeous solid mahogany curio cabinet, in 1992. But she’d honed her skills on a variety of whimsical subjects well before then.
Living in and on the shelves in her living room are replica carousel horses, tiny human-like caricatures and peeled-back golf balls, the innards whittled to represent subjects far and wide. She even carves pattern in gun stocks.
She estimated her carvings can take anywhere from several hours to weeks depending on their size and complexity.
Another Peterson protege, Twin Falls resident Curt Steen, 72, has been carving for four years. On display Wednesday was one of his favorite pieces, a minutely detailed cabin carved from cottonwood tree bark. The piece took him three weeks to finish.
“I enjoy working with my hands,” said Steen, who figures he carves an average of two days a week. “Starting the projects are the most challenging.”
Over in a corner, Twin Falls native Gloria Johnson, 67, was painstakingly gouging away on a wall hanging of a flower out of basswood, a soft wood ideal for carving, Peterson said.
“The most challenging part of this is carving something that actually looks like something,” said Johnson, who took up the craft about three years ago. “We have some disasters, but Kathy somehow gets us through them.”