46th Annual Red River Valley International Wood Arts Festival

“Bison in Butternut,” by Bob Pedigo of Bismarck, is the piece students will be making under Pedigo’s tutelage. Contributed photo/Red River Valley Woodcarvers


What: 46th Annual Red River Valley International Wood Arts Festival

When: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday, April 15, and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Sunday, April 16

Where: Fargo Air Museum, 1609 19th Ave. N., Fargo

Tickets: $5 per adult, $10 family pass, free for kids 12 and under

Carve out some time for local wood arts this weekend at the Red River Valley Woodcarvers 46th annual International Wood Arts Festival in the Fargo Air Museum. 

More than 30 woodcarvers, woodturners and wood sculptors from the upper Midwest will display their works alongside wood, knife and tool vendors. Carvers can also get their knives sharpened during the two-day event. 

Attendees will also have a chance to vote for their favorite carvings, and winners will be awarded for first, second and third place and for People’s Choice. 

Festival Show Director Rhonda Smith of Hawley, Minn., who’s led festival efforts for four years now, said more than 300 people showed last year to take a look at artists’ handiwork and try their hand at woodcarving themselves. 

Smith has been a carver for eight years. “I’m still gaining experience as a woodcarver,” she said. “I decided to give it a try, as my dad was a woodcarver.  It’s taken root, I really enjoy carving.”

“Puppet Master,” by Wisconsin-based woodcarver Cecilia Schiller. Schiller is a featured sculptor at the festival this year and will be teaching a class on automata carving—carvings that come to life with the turning of a crank. Contributed photo/Cecilia Schiller

Sculpt your skills: take a class

Woodcarvers are proud of the work they do, but they’re even prouder when they get to teach the craft to others. 

Experienced carvers from Red River Valley Woodcarvers, Flickertail Woodcarvers in Bismarck and Schiller, who is from Wisconsin, will all share their wisdom and talents in a series of classes throughout the three-day event. 

“I love seeing the work that comes out of the classes, and I also get excited about new carvers getting inspired by our show and joining our club,” Smith said. “ We get new carvers every year during our shows.”

Attendees can choose from three of five class offerings during the festival (the youth and “Bison in Butternut” classes are full):

  • “Adult Intro to Carving 101,” with Derek Epping, 8:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. Saturday and Sunday. 18+. Cost is $10. No carving experience necessary. 
  • “10-Inch Sunfish In Basswood With Habitat,” with John Randash,  8:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. Saturday and Sunday. Cost is $35, plus $20 supply fee.
  • “Mesmerizing Mechanical Sculptures in Wood: The Art of Automata,” with Cecilia Schiller, 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday. Cost is $300 and includes a kit. 

Pay and register online at https://rrvwoodcarvers.org/wood-arts-festival/.

The 45th Red River International Wood Arts Festival, held at the Fargo Air Museum in 2022, drew a crowd of about 300 people. Contributed photo/Red River Valley Woodcarvers

Cecilia Schiller, featured sculptor and guest instructor 

Cecilia Schiller has been working with wood since 1992 and has been a professional wood carver for more than 10 years.

This is her first year attending the festival here in Fargo, and she’ll be spending three days teaching a course called “Mesmerizing Mechanical Sculptures in Wood: The Art of Automata.”

WATCH: Automata by Cecilia Schiller- My Turn

While she’s most passionate about both figurative and decora

tive carving, she’s well-known for her automata work, a technique that employs hand cranks to bring the wood works to life. Her preferred woods are anything that’s native to the area, so, basswood, walnut and butternut.

“I’m attracted to the natural beauty of wood. Working with wood is kind of a dance, because wood was once alive and you want to do it justice, you want to work with the grain instead of farming it,” Schiller said. “It’s wonderful to see the grain emerge, the creation emerge. It is a very magical process.”

Register for S

chiller’s three-day course at the festival here.

Visit http://www.ceciliaschiller.com to see videos of her work and follow her on Instagram.

Bob Pedigo, instructor

Bob Pedigo, 76, of Bismarck, is a member of Flickertail Woodcarvers, a Bismarck-area carving club, and is one of this year’s guest instructors at the festival. He’s attended the event seven times.

An accomplished carver, Pedigo enjoys carving animals and realistic human faces. His favorite wood: butternut. “It has a beautiful grain,” he said.

Pedigo is no stranger to paying attention to detail. He’s a retired FAA employee who worked on aircraft guidance where he was responsible for tower control communication with aircraft.  

He’s also no stranger to carving out time for his craft. 

“I encourage people to try woodcarving, despite saying they have no time. I did a lot of traveling with my job and stayed in hotels and still carved, with chips going into a wastebasket. So you have to make time to carve if you have the interest,” Pedigo said.

The carver said it’s always fun to see what others come up with at the festival, and he particularly enjoys interacting with students. “I’m always looking for new ideas and inspiration,” Pedigo said.

“10-Inch Sunfish in Basswood With Habitat,” is a piece by carver John Randash. Class attendees will create their own sunfish in Randash’s class. Contributed photo/Red River Valley Woodcarvers

John Randash, instructor

Retired carpenter and contractor John Randash, 73, of Moorhead, has been carving for just seven years, and some would say his progress is coming along quite swimmingly. 

Randash loves to carve fish and will teach others how in his class that focuses on creating a 10-inch sunfish with a habitat (register for the class here).

“I have to throw in a few others (subject matters) in there so people know I can carve more than fish,” he said. “But when some people look at a tree, they see a tree. When I look at a tree, I see a fish.”

It’s also no surprise, then, that his favorite material is basswood, either. Randash has been a member of Red River Valley Woodcarvers since 2017 and served as president for two years. 

“I really enjoy carving. It’s fun to take a block of wood and see what I can turn it into,” he said. 

As Randash prepares for his fifth festival, he’s looking forward to “the camaraderie, seeing people” and looking at various carving techniques. “It’s always fun to get together,” he said.

Wayne Hankel paints details on a bird carving. Hankel has been a carver for more than 50 years and said he enjoys all parts of the woodcarving process, “Even the painting.” Contributed photo/Red River Valley Woodcarvers

Wayne Hankel, youth carving instructor

Youth carving instructor and 50-year carving veteran Wayne Hankel has been a member of Red River Valley Woodcarvers for more than 30 years. He even had a stint as president during that time, but one thing that keeps him coming back to the festival year after year: “Teaching the youth to carve. That brings me much joy,” he said.

Hankel is a retiree of the NDSU Extension 4H Development department, and these days, he gets to carve every day, a process he said allows for deep creative expression and a good challenge. His preferred woods: butternut and basswood. Favorite subject matter: wildlife.

“Carving is a way for me to achieve personal satisfaction. Anyone can do it with a little instruction and woodcarvers, in general, are very helpful. Just ask questions, and carvers are more than willing to answer them and offer help,” Hankel said.

“The Wizard,” by Derek Epping, Red River Valley Woodcarvers president and a class instructor. Contributed photos/Red River Valley Woodcarvers

Derek Epping, Red River Valley Woodcarvers president and intro class instructor

Fargo resident and construction worker foreman Derek Epping, 37, of Fargo has been carving since his mid-20s, and shares his passion with his brother and grandfather. He is the current president of Red River Valley Woodcarvers and has been a member for eleven years. 

Epping will be teaching the intro to wood carving class at this year’s festival. No experience is necessary and attendees may register here

“I have a strong sense of accomplishment with my carving, and a passion for woodcarving. It’s very relaxing,” he said. “You can have a bad day and pick up a block of wood and turn it into something creative and immediately feel better.” 

Epping enjoys creating faces and whimsical houses out of cottonwood bark, basswood and butternut, but he finds inspiration and challenge from many everyday objects. 

“I like to look at things and wonder if I can carve it, such as a bird, a person’s nose or a building I see,” Epping said.

For each of the ten years he’s attended the festival, he said he always enjoys seeing others get inspired about wood arts.

“The atmosphere at the museum, seeing other carvers, and also seeing new beginnings for others that are attending and are inspired to start carving,” Epping said.

Can’t make the show? Register for an upcoming class

Red River Valley Woodcarvers will offer a class in May, then they’re off for summer break, returning in September for a fresh set of courses available for all ages and abilities. Check out the schedule on their website for more information.

About the author

Lonna Whiting is a freelance writer and owner of lonna.co, a content marketing and communications agency located in Fargo, North Dakota. She is a frequent contributor to The Arts Partnership’s content library and also provides strategic communications consultation to the organization.




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