JANESVILLE — Stuart Bjork carved out a nest for his 2001 retirement.
He did so slowly, starting to buy woodworking and woodcarving tools in 1989.
“When I retired, I didn’t want to sit around. I wanted something to stay busy. Woodworking and wood carving became that avenue,” Bjork said.
The self-taught, 68-year-old Janesville amateur artist works from the woodworking shop in his garage and the carving studio in his basement. He first created an Indian head bust from laminated pieces of two-by-six boards.
“I call him my cross-eyed Indian,” Bjork said, running his fingertips over the bust.
Bjork then carved caricatures, walking sticks and animals before turning his focus to birds four years ago. His first was a rose-breasted grosbeak, which sits on a hutch in the dining room of Bjork’s south side Janesville home with numerous other carved birds.
“It has no feet,” Bjork said as he pulled the grosbeak off the shelf.
“Surprisingly, the day I finished painting this, there were two live grosbeaks in my back yard,’’ he said.
Carving cardinals, which takes 80 to 100 hours, is Bjork’s favorite pastime. That’s because he attended Brodhead schools where the Cardinal is the school mascot.
“They just appeal to me,” he said.
Among Bjork’s current, unfinished projects are a cedar waxwing, a cardinal, two gold finches, a bluebird, three purple finches and a blue jay.
“When you get to a certain stage, the work becomes stagnant. If I’m tired, I start making mistakes. So I stop or work on something else,’’ he said.
Bjork grew up longing to work with his hands and wood. He comes from a family of men who worked with wood. His paternal grandfather was a barn builder and his maternal great-grandfather was a woodworker.
“The love of woodworking is in my blood,’’ he said.
Bjork still can remember the candy dish he hollowed from a piece of rough walnut when he was a seventh-grader and the woodworking construction projects he was assigned during his four years with the Navy CB’s.
It was a difficult decision in the 1960s when he left his job as the main machine operator at Ossit Church Furniture to find a better-paying job to support his growing family.
“I like working with my hands and creating things,” said Bjork, who worked for Gardner Baking for 34 years.
Bjork was the featured artist during the Rock River Valley Woodcarvers annual show at the fairgrounds in September. He’s also entered shows the past several years and won several blue ribbons plus an honorable mention at the master level, which ranks higher than advanced, intermediate and novice levels.
“I get ribbons, recognized by others and learn from those who critique my work,” he said.
Bjork said it’s easy to lose track of time when he’s drawing inspiration for his wood carvings from his own mind, calendars, books, magazines, what he sees in natural life and through studying with master carvers and professionals to improve his woodcarving skills.
“I spent eight hours down here,” he said of his basement, “and thought it’d been 15 minutes.’’
TO LEARN MORE
The Rock River Valley Woodcarvers Club of Wisconsin meets from 6 to 9 p.m. the first Thursday of the month at the Janesville Senior Center, 69 S. Water St.