Archive for Thursday, April 6, 2006

The Love of Pete

Woodcarver Pete Lawson’s merit award big, whittle achievement

April 6, 2006

In the middle of a coffee table filled with lifelike carved birds, best-of-show ribbons and a miniature carousel horse, Pete Lawson pointed to one of his favorite pieces ---- a sculpture made of smooth dark wood called "The Duck Hunter." As the name implies, it's a duck, but under one wing it's packing a shotgun.

Lawson's comic bent goes hand-in-hand with the name he has made for himself as a rescuer and rehabilitator of old carousel horses for the First City Museum in Leavenworth.

But the creative flights of fancy that seem common to the woodcarver, who will be 85 next month, are overshadowed by another trait recognized recently by the Kansas City Wood Carvers Club ---- his generosity.

"I lost a lot," his wife, Arlene, said.

She said her husband often gives away his work to charity or sells sculptures to friends or those who enjoy a particular piece.

Arlene said she saw the pieces come and go, including a pair of

intricately carved cardinals.

"I haven't gotten over (those) yet," Arlene said.

But the transitory nature of Lawson's work doesn't overshadow the respect she has for her husband, who recently won a merit award from the carvers club.

"Whatever he sets his mind to, he can do," she said.

Lawson's art form is a vivid example of that.

He didn't start whittling pieces until after he sold his mechanic's garage in 1975.

"A friend of mine carved, and I kept going and looking at his stuff," Lawson said.

Eventually, after seeing several pieces he liked, Lawson thought he'd try it on his own.

His first carved piece was of a duck, but he had been involved in art years before.

"He drew cartoons starting in high school," Arlene said. "He had a sketch pad and did quite a lot of drawing."

The carved duck eventually led to a variety of pieces from breadboxes to painstakingly detailed plates, to his famous wooden birds.

He also came to be a mainstay of the carvers club by helping out with its annual meetings as both a participant and as a behind-the-scenes supporter.

Lawson has also shared his talent with the community.

He has worked with local Scouts in totem pole carving projects and has taught his love of carving in both junior high schools and senior centers.

Such accomplishments earned him the merit award, according to an introductory speech provided by the carvers club.

"I didn't know they were going to do that," Lawson said.

But this year things have slowed down for Lawson.

"He's had a real hard year," Arlene said.

After recovering from a blood clot in his lung, he has started carving again.

"I'm much behind on my carving now. I've got people waiting on me," Lawson said.

Every year he donates pieces to his church's fund-raiser.

He's also returned to the First City Museum to continue work on his other ongoing passion.

"I've worked there for five-and-a-half years one day a week," Lawson said.

Since Lawson started working with the museum as part of the Wood Carvers Club, it has grown into a three-story building and refurbished several complete carousels created by C.W. Parker almost a century ago.

"We've got an 1850s (era horse) down there," Lawson said.

For the most part, when Lawson and other volunteers begin refurbishing a piece, like the 1850s era horse ---- the process is like a puzzle.

The artists would take apart the horses and eventually find ways to piece them back together, Pete said.

Sometimes the artists would try something completely different.

The museum recently unveiled a handicap accessible carriage for one of its carousels, which was made possible by Lawson's work and design.

He even had the chance to ride it. It was the first carousel ride he and his wife took since the 1940s when they were in Topeka just before he left to serve the country in World War II.

With the unveiling, it seemed much like his work and carousel ride, honor had finally come around.

"It was fun," Lawson said.

-- Lansing Current editor John Taylor contributed to this article. Taylor can be reached at

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