Carvers team up at Otoe County Fair

Kirt Manion
Nebraska City News-Press

Wood carvers were hard at work at the Otoe County Fairgrounds on Thursday, July 22, making creations to be auctioned off in support of the fair.

T.J. Jenkins, a full-time carver, was doing the majority of the carving. Joining Jenkins for a bit of carving on Thursday was longtime friend and past Otoe County Fair carver Mike Riege of Nebraska City.

Riege has been dealing with some injury issues that have kept him from doing the Otoe County Fair, so he called upon Jenkins to fill in for him.

That’s really what the craving community is all about. It’s a group of artists who support the drive of others while pursuing their own hobby or business.

From A.J. Lutter, one of the Pioneers who made carving the popular fair attraction it is today, to some of the hobby carvers who just create when inspiration strikes, most of these guys know and count on each other for support, encouragement and instruction in the craft.

Jenkins, who hails from Dearborn, Mo., an I-29 community between St. Joseph and Kansas City, said he made the leap to full time carving back in 2012.

When he first took up the hobby, Jenkins said he used simple implements to carve, like a claw hammer for instance. 

After attending some events, like Carving in the Ozarks at Eureka Springs, Ark., Jenkins said he became aquatinted with many carvers and more familiar with different techniques.

He picked up a saw and began carving all the time.

By his own admission, the first projects of his career were not the quality he has now come to expect.

Jenkins makes a lot of bears, eagles and owls. Some of the first bears were, let’s just say, different looking.

“It looked a like a barrel with a scarf going around it,” Jenkins said.

Since then, they’ve gotten better.

“My bears have went from crude to cuddly,” Jenkins said.

When people look at the detail of his creations now, they often say that Jenkins is really talented. Actually, Jenkins said the products are simply the result of carving a lot of pieces.

“There is no talent to this. It’s just blunt force repetition,” Jenkins said. “Whether you want to or not, you’re going to improve.”

There’s always more to learn though. And the Otoe County Fair show is just another chance to do that. Jenkins said he has enjoyed getting to know Mike and calls him a good friend. They didn’t know each other as well until Jenkins starting helping Mike fill out fair shows that he simply couldn’t carve at, at least for now. 

Working side by side with other carvers is always welcome though, so having Mike there on Thursday was nice. Jenkins said carvers give each other tips and help them get the final product they want. 

“We give each other our honest opinion,” Jenkins said.

Some of the advice has brutal honest quality to it, but none is delivered in a mean spirit and all of it helps the process along.

Jenkins carves at the Kansas State Fair, the Iowa State Fair and a number of county fairs. He would like to add the Nebraska State Fair some day too.

The main goal when attending any event, Jenkins said, is to entertain on-lookers with carvings that can be done and appreciated in a short period of time. He talks to the patrons about what he’s doing and enjoys that interaction as well.

At the end of the fair, Jenkins said he hopes to have created pieces that folks will bid on in support of the fair and then take home to enjoy.

To see Jenkins pieces, including ones from the Otoe County Fair, visit Chainsaw Folk Art on Facebook.

T.J. Jenkins, foreground, and Mike Riege work on carving creations at the Otoe County Fair in Syracuse.
Pictured is one of T.J. Jenkins wood carving creations from the Otoe County Fair.