In the 1950s, George Heavener’s older brother, Mack, carved the image of a horse’s head on the back of an old clipboard. When Mack married, he gave the clipboard to his little brother.
“That inspired me to want to carve, too,” George Heavener said. “I tried it once, but I didn’t think I could do it.”
In 1987, Heavener was piddling in his shop doing some welding when he picked up some carving knives and a Dremel tool and tried his hand at carving again.
The first piece he made was a relief carving of a mountain lion on a log. That was followed by carvings of a bluejay, a squirrel, deer, foxes and fish.
“Carving is kind of like riding a bicycle, in a way,” Heavener said. “The more you carve, the better you get. I feel like I’m still using my training wheels.”
For a good while, he continued with relief carving, where a slab of wood is carved to provide depth, making the objects in the carving appear to jump off the wood. Each piece took him about 20 hours to make. He donated some pieces to charity while giving others away.
Next, he moved on to in-the-round carving, which is more lifelike.
“I enjoy carving horses and mules and wagons more than anything else because that’s what I grew up with,” said Heavener, 71.
His most prized creation is a stagecoach pulled by six horses that also includes four figurines.
“I got the idea for it from the John Wayne western, ‘Stagecoach,’” he said. “It took me a year to do that one. I joke with my daughter, Holly, and tell her to use it as the centerpiece on my casket, but I think it’d be too big.”
He also has done in-the-round carvings of a pair of mules pulling a wagon, a farmer going to the fields in a wagon, deer leaping a barbed-wire fence, tractors and plows.
“I make it a point to try to make each carving look better than the last one,” said Heavener, who is retired from FMC, where he worked for 36 years. “I try something different all the time.”
He uses poplar for most of his carvings and basswood for details, like eyes and noses.
“I’ve got a chess board I’ve been working on since I retired in 2012,” he said. “I finished the board. I’m working on the men now. It gets kind of repetitive when you’re carving the same piece over and over. I’ve made the king and five pawns. I have a long way to go.”
Heavener has between 15 and 20 carvings at his home in Marietta that he shares with his wife, Betty. Another 15 or so pieces are at his daughter’s home.
“I’ve sold a few, but I’m not much of a salesman,” he said. “I’d have to put money with it to give them away.”
One thing he’s adamant about: He doesn’t take commissions.
“I tell people I’m retired and if I took commissions, it would feel like I’m working again,” Heavener said. “I do this because I enjoy it.”
He buys small sculptures at stores, thrift shops and yard sales and keeps them around to get ideas for things like muscle tone, skin, wrinkles, hooves and bone structure.
“I use them as a model, or a study, as I call it,” he said. “I’ll take anything I can learn from to make my work more realistic. I have some pattern books and I might look at a pattern, but I’ll change it – turn a head or the position of the legs. I make more of my own patterns, really.”
The piece he’s working on now is two elks locking antlers. So far, he’s got one pair of the antlers made.
“I finish whatever I start, even if there is a mistake in it,” Heavener said. “I just try to cover it up. Whatever I have, it’s God’s gift. That’s what it is. Without him, I couldn’t do this.”