A protractor, a small compass and a gouging knife.     Simple tools but very effective in creating designs in basswood, at least for 78-year-old Lowell Anderson of rural Clara City who has won numerous blue ribbons, grand champions and taken best of show at several county fairs as well as the Sons of Norway International convention.     “It really makes you feel good when you go to a fair and get all these ribbons. I’ve never had anything but a blue ribbon.”     He has his wife Barb to thank for getting into this art form, since she’s the one that suggested he take a chip carving class at the Kultur Hus in Sunburg.         He took two classes from Bob Bredeson of Kandiyohi to begin with and now a year later he’s taken a few more classes.
“You always learn something at the classes,” he said, noting he wasn’t so sure about it at first but he bought some wood from Bredeson and it went pretty good.     In searching for wood Lowell first looked at craft stores but the wood they offered really wasn’t what he was looking for. He turned to the internet and in looking for basswood plates found a place in Michigan where they had all sorts of plates in different styles and sizes. “I tried an order and I liked the wood, its very nice wood, so that’s where I’ve been getting my wood.” He said when he placed his first order another fellow in the class suggested they share an order, so Lowell put in an order for five plates measuring six inches, eight inches and ten inches. “They varied in price from about $6 dollars up to $12 dollars a plate. When I got the order done I was up to $1,800.” He emailed the order to the company and asked what they thought of that order. “He sent me back an email saying ‘Lowell, that’s enough for two lifetimes.’”     Upon hearing that Lowell cut the order in half. “I’ve gone through all those plates and I’ve ordered twice since from there.” He added, “once you get an order and you find out what size plates you like, what size attracts people, then I go for those kind of plates”     The only wood Lowell uses is basswood. He really likes basswood and described it as a soft, even grained wood with very fine grain.     He demonstrated how he does the carving, noting he uses a 95 gouge knife for all his carvings. With that knife he gouges, chips and stamps to make the mark where he starts and stops the cut. “As far as my tools, when I went to grade school we used these little compasses and they’re very important because you need to find your centers.”     He went on describe the chipping as making circles on the entire piece you’re working on, then making flowers out of the circles. Along with the compass he uses that small protractor, a ruler, and an adjustable compass he has set for a quarter of an inch once his circles are made.     The plates he carves come in many shapes. Some are round, others are oval or heart shaped. He has flat plates, scoop plates, rim plates with a scoop and heart plates with a scoop. They range in size from 6 to 8, to 10 and 12 inches. The work occupies a lot of his time, but when you love what you’re doing you really can’t call it work. He said it takes him anywhere from half a day to two days to complete one plate, depending on the size. That includes not just the chipping but the entire process from drawing the circles on the wood, to stamping it and chipping it out. “It would take you another day to finish it with the stain, shellac and varnish because you’ve got drying time also.” Lowell said he usually carves five or six of them at a time, then stains them and lets them sit a while after which he shellacs them and lets them dry. “It’s real simple.”     His plates vary a bit in color once finished and that’s because of the stain he puts on them. Some he only varnishes and on others he uses a natural stain. “I really want the work I’m doing to show so if you use a lot of dark stuff it would hide your work.” Lowell said of all the plates he carves, the heart ones are the most popular. “It really grabs their eye.” That’s the more expensive plate as well, he said, noting he has $12 in it before he even starts working on it.     The design on all the plates is that of flowers and some have a triple flower in the center. “They really turn out nice,” he said, noting he has some on display at the Kultur Hus in Sunburg. “That’s the only place I really have any on display. I was thinking I would like to put on a show. I don’t have to sell any, just put on a display of the different plates, the different sizes.” At the same time he would display his blue ribbons and have his calling card on hand.     He said there is wood chipping with a knife also, he tried that but it was too hard on his fingers, so he went to using a gouge type knife. “This I enjoy, it doesn’t bother my hands. I use a gouge knife and only use this one size.” Sometimes Lowell varnishes his pieces and at other times doesn’t. “It depends on how they’re looking.”     These plates are all for decoration. “Its like buying a plate or print that’s going to sit on your furniture or hang on your wall.” He said he sells his plates, gives them for gifts and donates them for fund raising functions like silent auctions where people have to bid on them. “I’ve probably given 100 or more away.”     Lowell said he had no idea he could do this and now that he’s received blue ribbons, been named grand champion and taken Best of Show he’s pretty proud. He hears a lot of comments from people who are amazed with the evenness of the work, the depth and uniformity of each piece. Barb said they sent a plate to a family with a new baby and that family exclaimed over how perfectly balanced it was and told them the plate was beautiful and much appreciated. “The major discussion on this piece of art was the precision of the cuts and how perfect they were.” You just push a little and carve it out, Lowell said, very simple.     As to how deep to go with the gouging, Lowell just looks at it and makes that decision. One has to be very careful when doing this work, he said, noting he uses a rubber mat under the plate to keep it from sliding.     There aren’t a lot of people who do wood chipping, Lowell said and nobody that’s done it as much as he has. This hobby really started because Lowell can’t get around as much as he used to. “It was something to try and I enjoy it very much.”     He probably hasn’t had as much time as he’d like to work on his hobby because of all the volunteer work the two of them have been doing. They recently retired from taking people to doctor appointments through Prairie 5 in Chippewa County. They still do bring the food from the nursing home to the meal site and take time to have dinner there as well. They also belong to the Willmar Senior Citizens Club, where he served as treasurer until his term expired. They were also active in the Sons of Norway where he’s a past president.”     They have three children, four grandchildren, three step grandsons and five step great grandchildren.     Lowell has been retired for 19 years. He served as postmaster at Clara City for 27 years and prior to that farmed for eight years. He rented the farm out when he got to be the postmaster, then when the renter decided to quit farming Lowell and Barb decided to remodel the house and move back to the farm.     Lowell and his wife attended the Host Fest in Minot, North Dakota and he stopped to visit with a man from Bosnia that actually brought the gouging type chip carving back to the carvers. “He had a booth there. I didn’t know who he was when I was walking around the Host Fest. I seen this guy with the gouging and I says to him ‘who taught you to gouge’ and he gave me the funniest look just like I’d almost insulted him.” Lowell had a small piece of his work in his pocket and took it out and I showed it to him. “He says ’Bob taught you.’” Here he was the man who taught Bredeson and he recognized the style Bredeson teaches. “That was really interesting.”     Lowell has always enjoyed working with wood. When he worked for the post office he would spend his spare time in the evenings carving ducks and other things. He also made Diamond Willow canes.     But when it comes right down to it “I’m happiest doing wood chipping.”