Looking at the realistic duck he had spent weeks carving, burning and detailing, Vic Fortwengler marveled at what his hands had done.
"You work everyday to retire," the 65-year-old Annapolis resident said, "and think you have no creative talent at all."
Fortwengler and 24 other students are into the eighth week of their advanced wood-carving class at the Arnold Senior Center. The class, sponsored by Anne Arundel Community College, devotes 10 weeks to cutting and detailing wood ducks and birds. Another 10 weeks is spent painting the decoys.
Master carver Eddie Cheezum, who also teaches out of his Hillsboro home workshop, uses both lecture and demonstration in his classes. "I carve one step ahead of them," he says.
Cheezum has been carving for more than 19 years and took second and third places in a competition last month in Chestertown. An instructor at the Arnold center for more than two years, he enjoys teaching people who know nothing about carving and then watching them master the art.
"I retired, and I've been wanting to carve all my life," said Glen Burnie resident Sam Bucich, 64. His carving partner, Daniel Pompa, who taught human anatomy and physiology for 40 years, said he didn't know anything about the anatomy of ducks -- but he's learning.
"Eddie's a great teacher," Pompa said. "He has a nice way about him.
It's not easy teaching 25 old ducks like us."
Assistant instructor Russell Allen, 70, said students spend more than 70 hours carving and 60 hours painting in class. "And that doesn't include homework," he added.
Attention to detail, patience and a lot of tools are the requirements of this advanced class. Each student must purchase his or her own equipment; many have spent over $700 for the drills, grinding stones, wood-burners and electric detailers.
Kutzalls, the small drill tips responsible for taking away much of the extra wood, come in different shapes and materials and cost $15 to $25 apiece.
Students, who carve such ducks as mergansers, drakes and green-winged teals, start with a blueprint. A diagram and finished model sit on a center table so students can check their work.
"If they follow the print, they do a pretty good job," said Allen.
The duck begins as separate wood blocks for the head and body. Many in the class agreed that carving the wings is difficult.
"The wings are concave on one side and convex on the other. You have to look at the diagram and transfer it to wood," said Annapolis resident Elsie Burton, 73.
But Ruby Harlow, 75, said "I think the head is most difficult, because it must be pretty realistic." The head is the first thing judges look at, she added.
Harlow, who has finished eight birds since 1983 and is working on another eight, said no one ever misses class. "Eddie is the best teacher we've ever had," she said.
"Everyone in the class is doing a very good job," Allen said. "They've come a long way since the first class."
He said his students still need to complete the feet, mount their ducks on driftwood blocks and paint the body before the decoys are finished.
Painting, he noted, takes a lot of time, since one color might require 10 coats. Such thin paint is necessary to protect burn marks and the feather effect.
Harlow said a hair dryer is used to help dry the paint. "Or else we would be here forever," noted Pompa.
Earlier this month, Peg Lawrence, 63, sold several of her birds and ducks at the WaterFowl Festival in Easton -- including a bluebird that sold just minutes after being placed on the table. She sells her carvings for up to $500.
A carver for seven years, Allen also sells his finished birds. He participated in the WaterFowl Festival and has exhibited his birds at various shows in Waldorf and throughout Maryland. Chesapeake Pottery, near the Bay Bridge, also offers his ducks for sale.
"Depending on the type of bird and how it is carved, I get $500 to $1,000 for the full-size ones," he said.
Allen, whose own collection contains about 35 carvings, says he makes two of everything, selling one and keeping the other.