/// REDUCED from $395 TO $295
Blue Ribbon Carvings : Red Cardinal Bird by RICHARD PENCE
Dimensions: 9 inches LONG & 7.5 inches in WIDTH
Wonderful Example of Pence's bird carvings.
Couple's Hobby Produces Wood Wonders
February 09, 1989
|By MARK ST. JOHN ERICKSON
POQUOSON — Five years ago Richard Pence was thinking about retirement. But he had no idea that when the time came he'd spend most of his days happily cooped up with his wife in the kitchen.
The former watchmaker and engraver, then an employee at the Amoco oil refinery in Yorktown, received a book on carving decoys that Christmas. He also promised his wife he'd carve two small shore birds for a shellcraft habitat she was making.
Those two chance circumstances gave birth to a hidden talent that has grown to championship proportions. Pence - to his amazement - has become one of the leading bird carvers in Hampton Roads. To add to his surprise, his wife, Myrtle, has followed right behind him. Both husband and spouse create award-winning carvings at the sturdy workbench set up in the kitchen of their creekside home.
"No, I didn't expect this to happen," says 60-year-old Richard, shaking his head with a quiet smile. "But once we got started, it just grew and grew."
"The more we worked, the more we tried to improve what we were doing," adds Myrtle, a vivacious 62. "It's just so fascinating that you hate to put down your knife."
Looking back, neither of the pair was all that good when they first took up carving. They've kept almost all of their early efforts, and they laugh when they point out the improvements in the birds they carve today.
It took nearly a year and a half, in fact, before they could see respectable progress. And then they ran into an unexpected hurdle. "We plateaued out," Richard says, remembering the frustration when their improvement seemed to stop.
"Everything looked the same, all right, but it just wasn't what we saw the other, more professional carvers doing."
The couple began to advance again after taking several bird-carving seminars from more experienced artists. Richard attended the classes, sometimes working as long as 10 to 15 hours a day. Then he'd return to share what he learned with Myrtle.
The result was a better feel for the details of color and texture that bird carvers love. The pair also refined their sense of shape and their understanding of the attitudes, or poses, that a bird's body can take.
Along the way they began to specialize. Richard took up shore birds, and Myrtle began carving miniature mates to the songbirds she saw in her yard. They also remodeled the kitchen, putting in a sturdy worktable that wouldn't shake when both of them wanted to carve.
Soon the television made its way in to the kitchen workshop. But the couple stopped watching any show they actually had to look at. "When we can, we'll start working at 8 o'clock in the morning and go on to about 11 o'clock at night," Richard says. "If you enjoy what you're doing, you just don't realize the time has gone by."
Some of the Pences' friends were skeptical of the couple's new, time-consuming occupation. They also were surprised when Richard and Myrtle started pulling in blue ribbons for their work. Myrtle won the first one, receiving a best-in-show award for a bright, sassy miniature of an East Carolina wren.
He followed less than a year later with a prize-winning miniature of a pelican. "Most people can't believe it," he says, proudly holding out another winner - an astonishingly lifelike carving of a woodcock. "They expect to see something sort of primitive.”
Primitive is the last word most people would use to describe the stunning flock of colorful wooden birds displayed throughout the Pence home. But though they sell the basswood and tupelo carvings at $125 to $1,000 apiece - enough to meet their expenses - the couple don't consider themselves truly professional.
"We devote the time, but there's still so much difference between our work and what they're able to do," Myrtle says. "I don't think we've got enough years in it yet. We've still got a lot to learn."
That doesn't keep them from engaging in a little friendly rivalry, however. Though they don't compete in the same category of carving, they frequently bump against one another when judges select best-in-show.
At one competition, in fact, Myrtle won the first and third place awards, while Richard came in second. But the contest of talents only seems to have brought the couple closer.