Carving couple makes mark across America with wooden images

Sunday, April 4, 2004

Phil and Vicki Bishop do not have ordinary jobs. Instead of the nine-to-five drudgery that most of the working world faces, this husband and wife team travels around the country teaching wood-carving seminars.

"We teach around 30 classes or seminars a year. We spend about 200 days on the road teaching. You can't beat it," said Phil Bishop, who along with his wife, calls Elk City, Okla., home when not on the road.

Since Friday, the Bishops have been in Jackson teaching a three-day seminar to members of the River Valley Carvers.

With the Bishops came about 30 finished pieces of the their wood-carving work. There were also a large assortment of "rough outs," or pieces of wood that have been roughly carved out into the shapes of the finished pieces.

The wood carvers in the seminar pick a wood carving they want to make and use the rough outs to work on.

"It makes it easier than starting with just a block of wood," said River Valley carver Dave Ledure. "That way people can get started on carving."

The Bishops instruct the carvers on techniques and watch over their progress.

This teaching business all started about 13 years ago when Phil Bishop took up an interest in wood carving again, reviving his childhood hobby.

He soon found out that quite a few other people around the country were interested in wood carving.

"It's bigger than I ever imagined," he said. "I thought it was a lost art."

Once he became serious about resuming carving, Phil Bishop read books and magazines for instruction. Then he started placing his work in competitions at wood carving shows.

"I had probably done two shows and won a bunch of awards, and someone asked me to come to a club and teach," he said. Once the initial teaching job came and went, Phil Bishop said he was invited by other groups and interest kept building

Then Vicki Bishop became involved. She was already into quilting, but the fear of using the sharp wood carving tools prevented her from taking an initial interest.

After several years of treating wood carving as a hobby, the Bishops decided to quite their jobs at a technology company assembling floppy disks and devote all their time to teaching others about carving.

While most of their money is made through the workshops and seminars, the Bishops also have a small mail-order business where they sell rough outs based on their designs. They also sell some of their finished work.

All of the Bishops' work is caricature work, and the seminars they teach instruct others on this style.

Phil Bishop's work tends to focus on lanky cowboys, while Vicki Bishop's carvings are often of animals and holiday figures like Santa Claus or Dracula.

Each year the Bishops create 17 new carving designs to make into rough outs for people to purchase.

It is the seminars that keep them most busy.

After Jackson, the Bishops will travel to Nebraska, Illinois, Oregon and Idaho for classes, all before the beginning of June.

Their teaching schedule is booked up until 2005.

Even though it has been ten years since they began teaching, Phil and Vicki Bishop said they still consider themselves lucky for being able to do something they love for a living.

"I never dreamed this was ever going to happen," Phil Bishop said.

335-6611, extension 182

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