When Jim Wickham received a duck sculpture from his wife, Mary, more than 20 years ago, he tried to carve his own duck out of a piece of wood.
It didn’t turn out so well, but he was determined to try again.
Mary gave him the duck because she knew he liked to work with wood, “and I just thought it would be a good thing for him to do,” she said.
“She probably thought it would get me out of her hair,” Jim joked.
Shortly after, his daughter Barbara, having known Jim had a love of working with wood, bought him a woodcarving book so he could learn different carving techniques.
After studying the book and mastering his trade, Jim has gone on to make animals, pots, clocks, small figurines and more.
He said he has also mastered carving a duck a couple of times.
“I always thought that maybe I’d like to try carving, but I didn’t think I had the talent to do any of it,” he said. “I still don’t have a lot of talent. I just do it as a hobby.”
“You do more than a lot of people do,” Mary told him while sitting on the couch in their Frederick home. “The first piece that didn’t turn out right, most people would throw it away. You kept on fighting and fighting and you don’t give yourself the credit.”
Jim worked as a lineman at Potomac Edison for 33 years before retiring in 1985. While he enjoyed camping and traveling after retirement he didn’t pick up woodcarving until almost 15 years later.
He has a woodcarving workshop in the basement of his and Mary’s home and in a shed in the backyard. He works on his carvings for an hour per day a few days a week. One carving can take as little as a day to as long as a week or so to complete, depending on the size.
This summer alone he carved a school of fish, a flock of birds and an osprey. His favorite thing to carve is a tiny doll horse “because they’re simple.”
Some of his carvings are then passed on to Mary who paints them. Mary, his wife of 67 years, is a self-taught painter and has been painting for 20 years. She also sews and makes floral arrangements.
When Jim is working in his shop, Mary is usually busy in her own craft room painting or sewing. They did work together once, but it didn’t go so well.
“It’s kind of cute because I sewed and he was helping cut out patterns,” she said. “I got a little aggravated with him because he showed me how to do my cutting and my measurements and I told him, ‘you’re not working with wood now.’”
Mary once tried her hand at woodcarving, and she said her piece was better than Jim’s.
“I had this little man and I carved it,” she said. “[Jim] took it down to the show they had down where we camped and I got a kick out of it because they liked mine better than they did his.”
Over the years, Jim has carved dozens of pieces and given them to family and friends. He doesn’t sell any of his pieces.
Carolin Stine, his niece, owns about half a dozen pieces of his work.
Her favorite piece is a wood spirit, a piece of wood with a face carved into it, that he made her. Guests who come to her house also ask about it too.
He’s also made her a birdhouse, which she referred to as a bird condominium.
Her uncle has “always worked with his hands,” she said. “He really enjoys it and I enjoy watching him make things. Anytime people of their age can stay active and engaged is wonderful.”
Jim marks the date on each of his sculptures either with a marker on the bottom or he inserts a penny on the side of the sculpture with the year that it was made.
While he keeps only a few sculptures in the house, he likes the challenge of carving something and learning new techniques.
“It’s like meditation,” Mary said. “It’s relaxing. You’re just thinking about that. You’re not thinking about other problems.”
“I’m not a person who has a lot of patience,” Jim interjected. “But with this it seems like I’ve got more patience than I do with anything.”
He wants to learn how to carve a bass fish. He plans on turning to the original woodcarving book his daughter got him for guidance.
He has no plans to slow down and will carve for as long as he can. Plus Mary won’t let him slow down.
“He stays active and enjoys doing it,” she said. “I can see him enjoying something and it makes me feel good that he’s found something that he enjoys doing.”
She added that even after retirement anyone can find a hobby they enjoy that’s not sitting on the couch and watching TV.
“That’s what I think,” Jim said. “All senior citizens should do something, not just sit in the chair and lay back. It can be nothing more than taking a book with crayons.”