Edna Speyrer was just a college student when a visit to a furniture store changed her life.
While there, she saw a carving of a matador and a bull.
“They were priced at $50 a piece. I said, ‘I can do that,’” she said.
So, she got a piece of mahogany wood and went to work on it. She spent several months, using her Case pocket knife, to create the three-dimensional figure, with its considerable detail.
“I ended up doing two bulls and two horses, and then that was the end of that,” said Speyrer, who now lives in Land O’ Lakes.
Years passed before she did any additional carving.
“Then, at the place where I was working, there was this fella that did carving — this was in Baton Rouge — and he said, ‘There’s a carving club in Baton Rouge. You need to join.’
“So, after a lot of coaxing. I decided to go one night,” Speyrer recalled.
“It was mostly men, and everybody would bring what they were working on, or what they had just finished. It was kind of a show and tell.
“I looked at this stuff. It was mostly birds.
“And I thought, ‘Oh, gosh, if I could only do half that good, I would be pleased.’
“And so, I started.
“Some of the members would give weekend seminars, and then everything started falling in place and (my) birds started looking pretty good.
“Every year, they have a big carving show in New Orleans. They coaxed me into entering and so I entered. I won ‘Best of Show’ as a novice.
“The next time I entered, I entered as an amateur, and I did well with that, and it just sort of spurs you on,” she said.
She entered shows for several years, but at some point stopped competing.
She’s never stopped carving.
She also began attending seminars — learning techniques from some of the best woodcarvers in the world.
Those seminars have taken her to Pennsylvania, Vermont, Arizona, Indiana and other places.
Her interest continued to grow, and she traveled to see birds in their natural settings.
She’s been to South America, Africa, Asia and Europe. She’s also visited New Zealand, 40-plus states and to several national parks.
She’s been to Alaska, twice.
Over time, she expanded her toolkit, too.
She carves her birds from Tupelo gum wood, which is ideal because the wood has an intertwined grain, which resists splitting while being carved.
She uses patterns to sketch out the basic shape of the bird.
After carving the bird, she begins working to contour it — delineating different areas of the bird for feather groupings.
Each feather is richly detailed, and she uses a burning process to bring out its texture.
The high-pitched whirring sounds in her workshop are reminiscent of a dentist’s drill, and fine-grained wood dust flies, as she works to create birds that look real.
She is a stickler for detail.
She uses knowledge she has gained through the years to carve birds that are anatomically correct. She uses reference materials she’s collected to guide her painting.
She enjoys blending colors — and confesses that she has a knack for getting the exact shade she needs.
She also buys clear glass eyes for her birds — of varying sizes — and then paints them according to her needs.
“Some birds have yellow eyes. Some have red eyes. Some have brown eyes,” she said.
The Land O’ Lakes woman said she never thought that a simple trip to a furniture store would lead her into an entirely new universe.
“You learn all kinds of interesting things,” she said. She added: “When I was a teenager, I bet I didn’t know the names of 10 different birds.”
Since then, she has carved hundreds of birds, in about 75 different species.
She thoroughly enjoys the challenge.
“I think you get a tremendous amount of self-satisfaction out of producing something from a block of wood. You have to just imagine that he’s in there. You just have to remove what doesn’t look like him.”
She gets so immersed that she often is absorbed in the pursuit for hours.
“I just lose track of time,” said Speyrer, who worked as a teacher and as a security guard before retiring at the age of 57.
She enjoys learning from master carvers and developing friendships with other carving enthusiasts.
Carving birds has never been her sole source of income, but she does sell her work. Her pieces range from $200 to $2,500.
Some of her birds are on display at a gift shop in Cedar Key. She also does work on commission. She also is open to private appointments with potential buyers.
Some birds require more time and energy to create, but even if it meant parting with the piece that’s become most precious to her, Speyrer said she wouldn’t hesitate to sell it.
“I can always carve me another one,” she said.
If you’d like to know about Speyrer’s birds, you can reach her by calling (225) 485-1374.
Published December 28, 2016