Dennis Heath- Ridgway Rendezvous                                 03/14/02


My thoughts on my adventure this year that I would like to share with

You, Ridgway 2002. ( event # 3 )

This is an event held for carvers , to get together and share ideas technique and tips , to make new friends and renew friendships.  Usually the event has a main carving day (Saturday), and the pieces are donated to auction and the money raised goes towards “Make a Wish” and the Ridgway YMCA. A noble cause which along with the town and its people draws the carvers together from all around the globe.

About Ridgway;

A small town in population compared to where I come from, Stevenage England, but they are wonderful people. Their hospitality and generosity is overwhelming, they greet you like family and make every effort to make every one welcome. I would visit Ridgway for that alone, every one there is a true ambassador the their country . The town deserves some government recognition  for being such good hosts to the international event , probably the only other event where you would see so many other internationals together would be an Olympic event .

This years rendezvous dates were 1/2/3/ march and I arrived in America, Pittsburgh Pa on the February 26. I arrived early to spend some time with my friend Joe King and he already had a guest carver Susan

Miller with him.  A lot of carvers fly into Pittsburgh and are often greeted by Jen & Joe, they take time out for this and it is much appreciated by us travelers.

I spent the night at Jen & Joe's house, we had good food , beer, and a dip in the hot tub , a strange experience for me being in a hot tub while it was snowing . This is one of the many other rendezvous experiences, you see, it is not just about the carving, and during this time I got to know Susan miller in the flesh who was previously just a name I had very little contact with. Jen also is an incredible woman, not a carver but she understands us all very well and helps at the rendezvous with associated activities.

As you can Imagine the rendezvous fever started after the Christmas holidays on the carving forum, with some people getting way too excited. You cant help yourself, it gets you like that. The forum allowed people to get aquatinted before the event and information to be shared. Some carvers met up and traveled together never having seen each other before. The head count was going up every week as more carvers signed up for the event by late Feb. We busted the 100 mark , (108 registered) a remarkable achievement only in its 3rd year. Many carvers bring there partners and children, and some are accompanied by friends who want to experience the event.

The first rendezvous ( 2000 ) there were around 29 carvers from America ,Canada , England and Germany. For me the event of a life time being invited to carve with the best in the world. At this point I would like to add I have never left my little country before this event, and I had only ever carved with one other person. (once) I made so many good friends and the town left such an impact on me, I was destined to return.

The year 2001 the rendezvous grew to over 50 carvers from 6 countries , even more names to try and remember. The excitement of it all was incredible , I got to experience flying again and made even more Friends. It was turning into a very spiritual experience for a lot of the carvers. Ridgway has become their carving Mecca, what ever skill or artistic level, all are made welcome and all give the same effort to make it a successful event. there is no other such event that I know of like this.

Ok lets talk about the 2002 event itself, my 3rd trip I am already concerned about trying to meet every one,  have some time to get to know a lot of the carvers, how do you fit all that into a few days? It was easier in previous years with fewer carvers , but I should have known that the event evolves every year and this was no exception.

Carvers wanting to spend a bit of extra time to make friends and settle in started to arrive early. Joe, Jen, Susan and I arrived on wednesday  afternoon after a 3 hour drive from Pittsburgh. Before going to our hotel we pulled onto the field where the carving was to take place on Saturday, and there were already carvings taking place with the international carvers. This continued on thursday and friday with carvers arriving early and setting up , choosing a log and carving it up. All around there were carvers meeting each other and introducing new friends. They all took it upon them selves to make extra time for this.

Friday was the ice carving day at the court house. I did ice carving the last 2 years and left it this year for others to experience who had never  tried it before, but I see the finished pieces were incredible. A structure was created like a fountain that stood about 8’ tall, and it housed fish. There were other single pieces placed around it as well. Meanwhile out on the field many carvers were well into their sculptures working on a 2 day carving and the spectators were growing in numbers even though the event was not officially open.  But how can you not want to watch or be a part of it?

Saturday, the big carving day I got onto the field around 9 am, and my first thoughts were where did this lot come from? They were not here yesterday,  yes even more carvers had arrived and set up early. The noise was getting closer and closer to a bees nest. Once I got a saw I started carving I never stopped until 2 pm. I carved a tall Buddhist monk figure which went for a good price. I had to give Val ( from my adopted family) my camera and asked her to take some pictures for me. I didn't have time and she did a wonderful job, otherwise I would of came home with nothing .

2 pm group photo time it was almost impossible to get every one there together and get a good shot, but they had a secret weapon, a photographer (Frank) who went up in the fireman's ladder truck for aerial shots.

After the group photo I managed a quick once around but missed a lot as the sculptures were being gathered for the auction . The skill and diversity of sculptures that were created was amazing . Birds and bears are popular pieces, they fetch a good price and most carvers are comfortable carving them. I expected to see more than there were but a lot of the carvers gave a diversity of subject matter and size. It was an incredible display at the auction and there must have been nearly 200 pieces on show. The auction lasted about 3 hours and was very exciting, and the auctioneer is very skilled at his job. (Doug Reading)

This year we had extra international carvers, there were carvers from Japan , Scotland , England , Germany , Canada, and various states across America. I think the final count was 97. I managed to spend time with the Japanese carvers on a few occasions, they are wonderful people and exceptionally talented artists. They want me to visit Japan one day,  well you never know. It was also nice for me to se a few more U.K. carvers as well , and a big increase in the number of female carvers also, 11 or so.

You will never get a more colorful bunch of people any where, and why do they come?  No one gets paid, they say “it is not a competition, no prize money at stake”. Some have a considerable expense , most of the business cards are given to other carvers so it is not for trade. Giving up our time is a small matter but building bridges with the association of fellow artists for most of us is the importance of the rendezvous. Helping out the children is a bonus, and the rest is a big party.

Usually the journey home means the end but now with the carving forums the event will last for some time. With all the pictures taken that will be posted and each person tells on their experience, and before we know it there will be talk of 2003.

I stayed in Ridgway a few days after the event bonding with friends, and helping out on monday with the group pole. It was requested that each carver do a small piece on it and monday we did some finishing on the pole, it was cold but fun.

During my time at the event this year I have had so many genuine invitations to visit from other carvers and towns people,  I know I could knock on any door and be welcome . The rendezvous has evolved each year into a more professional and spiritual event , and we must not forget the costs to the host for holding these events. For the future of these events some moneys raised will have to go to funding the next event, I am sure all the carvers would not want to see our hosts  go bankrupt, they put months of time and effort into this and fund a lot of it themselves.

Finally I would like to add; every one who attended the event left with a greater faith in humanity, and a spiritual experience was had by all. Many will return. 

from across the pond,

Dennis Heath




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