Carved to Perfection

Photo by Rich Young of 29 Hills Photography

Dale Woodard’s studio is hidden from street view, securely nestled among his wife’s budding flower garden, behind a low chain-link fence. The ordinary passerby wouldn’t think to peer in the window of his sun-drenched shop, where Woodard sits, carving saints and sinners to life. 

For the past 13 years, Woodard has been chipping away at seven relief carvings of well-known Biblical figures for Faith Presbyterian Church in Tacoma.

When the pastor first approached Woodard to create a piece of art for the church, Woodard was surprised, because it’s unusual for Protestant churches to have visual art as a part of their image. 

The pastor suggested Woodard create a single carving from Hebrews 11, the section of the Bible that specifically addresses faith — an appropriate pick for Faith Presbyterian. Tasked with deciding which apostle to depict, Woodard began to wonder whether it would be more impartial of him to try to represent all nine of them. 

“And then one day, I’m looking up at that wall, and I was thinking it was just going to be too small to try to fit a whole bunch of carvings in that small space. And then the pastor walked by, and I told him what I was thinking, and he said, ‘What? Are you afraid of a little work?’”

So, Woodard was given a larger canvas. He would construct seven carvings, each between 44 and 48 inches tall, depicting all of The Hebrew 11’s notables: Samson, Rahab, Noah, Moses, Cain, Abel, Naboth, Abraham, and Isaac.

Woodard began his carving career as a Boy Scout in Spokane, replicating the neckerchief slides handed out at troop jamborees. Years later, married and creating intricate hand-painted Santa Clauses with his wife, Woodard decided to sharpen his skills at the 500-year-old The Geisler-Moroder Woodcarving School in the Alps of Austria. In late 2002, after three months of intense training with some of the best carvers in the world, Woodard returned home, and shortly after began his first apostle. 

Jeff Hobson

The faces of Abraham and Isaac, which laid on his work bench when we talked earlier this spring, are carved to perfection — the wrinkles beside their eyes and the smoothness of their noses are impossibly intricate. Woodard says that the whole process, from start to finish, can take anywhere from a few months to almost a year. Between working multiple jobs and raising a family, it’s not hard to imagine why seven carvings would take upwards of a decade. 

“You know,” Woodard said, lovingly, running his hand over his work.“This used to be a living, breathing thing. It’s kind of funny; you end up building a relationship with a piece of wood, because every one is different. Most of the time, I’m trying to force my will on it, and it’s saying, ‘No you can’t do that,’ and so we compromise. … That’s one of the reasons I like doing wood carving so much, because they are all so different, and they’ll always be unique.”

The final carving was hung in Faith Presbyterian the first weekend in March, completing Woodard’s 13-year journey. When asked whether he’ll miss this project, he responds, “I’m glad it’s done. It’s taken a long time, and now I can move on and work on other things.”

Woodard will probably go back to computer programming, a job he’s held intermittently for the last few years, but he’s really excited to return to his “first love” — carving miniature Native American statues. 

With applications in the mail and art shows on the horizon, this is not the last we’ll be seeing of Dale Woodard.

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