Westminster couple carve out retirement hobby

March 26, 1993|By Fred Rasmussen | Fred Rasmussen,Contributing Writer

Tim and Ernestine McKinney do what some couples might consider impossible -- sharing a hobby while enjoying each other's company.

A chance visit to the Easton Waterfowl Festival in 1982 and the purchase of a carving kit set them on the road to becoming serious woodcarvers. They specialize in bird sculptures.

"We took a starter course, but found working at it was the best way to learn," said Mr. McKinney, 63, who retired in 1992 after 37 years as an accountant with the W. R. Grace Co.

He does the carving in a shop a few paces from their Westminster house, where he has his workbenches, band saws, tools and a good supply of wood and light.

"Ernie" McKinney, 66, creates the feather effects and paints the carvings. "This is where I do all my work," she said, sitting in her favorite chair as a cheerful fire took the chill off an early spring morning.

Mrs. McKinney retired in 1982 after 10 years at Hutzler's Department Store on Howard Street in Baltimore, where she was the supervisor of accounts payable. Suddenly she had time to spare.

"I've always been interested in handwork," she said. "I didn't know anything about ducks, but I figured if you like working with your hands you can learn to do it."

As the two of them worked on various pieces in those early days, they came up with an agreeable division of labor.

"Ernie liked to draw in the feathers with the electric knife, and I enjoyed doing the carving," said Tim McKinney.

It was a collaboration that suited them both, although there are occasionally artistic differences.

"We work together separately," said Mrs. McKinney. "We have normal disagreements about the carving or painting and then we walk away until one gives in."

Mr. McKinney said, "It's a challenge to go ahead and finish a piece when you have different views, but we use our photographs and books to prove our points of view, and that generally resolves the situation."

Working in basswood, the soft wood of the linden tree, Mr. McKinney finishes the carving and then turns the piece over to his wife, who burns in the feathers with her knife.

She painstakingly draws thousands of lines while sitting in her chair watching television. So adept is she that she can do the work by simply glancing down and touching the area she's working on.

Then the piece is ready for painting. They use acrylic paints, which "are a little more forgiving if you make a mistake," said Mr. McKinney.

Mrs. McKinney said she plans to try using oils one day.

She is quick to add, "By going to shows and seeing other carvers' work, it brings you down right quick."

They are branching out and experimenting by creating habitats, scenes that feature a bird surrounded by natural elements such as grasses or branches.

Last year they won an award for a blue jay habitat that depicted the bird sitting on a branch with a cardinal's feather in its beak.

"We're starting to do Santa Clauses and Christmas tree bird ornaments," said Mr. McKinney. However, while they accept custom orders, they manage to turn out only about 10 pieces a year.

"This is a hobby and not a business," said Mr. McKinney, as his wife nodded her agreement.

"Each carving takes on the average of 100 hours, so mass production is really out of the question," he said. "And each one is distinctive, with no two the same."

Executives at W. R. Grace often bought carvings from them to give as gifts.

"They recognized the quality of our work, which gave us a real boost. Our work is all over the world," Mr. McKinney said.

He was born in Kentucky, where his father owned a sawmill. His interest in woodworking began when he was a young man, and he proudly points to a table that he made in high school.

Mrs. McKinney grew up in a small southwestern Virginia town, Jonesville, near the border with Kentucky. Like her husband's father, her father made cedar chests. The couple meet while Tim McKinney was working for a coal company, and she was operating a beauty shop. They married in 1949.

They lived in Glen Burnie before moving to Westminster in 1986.

At the moment, they are planning a trip to Ireland to visit the ancestral home of the McKinneys.

The Carroll Carvers Club will have its third annual woodcarvin show and competition from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. tomorrow at the Westminster VFW Hall on Poole Road.

Works on display will include waterfowl, decorative and working decoys; song birds; chip and relief carving; carousels; animals and animal habitats; birds of prey; Santa Clauses; interwoven wood creations and other carved items.

Information: 795-7081.

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