Delmar Carman uses his talent to create memorable gifts
Retirement can create an artist, no matter their age. As sunlight streams through the window and lands on the woodworker’s desk, he studies the intricate wreath he’s fashioning of wood. The mosaiclike picture before him resembles the sections of a quilt. He continues to piece the puzzle together as a small puppy named Penny sleeps on a nearby rug. Working with a scroll saw may be a more recent hobby of Delmar Carman’s, but building things has been a lifelong occupation.
“I first began woodworking when I was a teenager,” says the 96-year-old from Bolivar. “Of course, it was a different kind back then.” Growing up on a farm, Delmar often worked with his dad in their shop, welding things back together and building what was needed for farming equipment, animal housing and even their own house. Life on a farm often meant fixing things yourself.
His experience with building projects eventually led him to work for a residential construction company, building houses in the Stockton area. For several years, he remodeled post offices across the country.
“After we retired, my wife, Stella, and I volunteered for 10 years with Laborers For Christ, building churches and schools in the U.S. and in Hong Kong,” Delmar says. Once finished with that, he knew there was still more work he wanted to do.
Today, he’s focused more on crafts than construction, but it’s still rewarding work for this Southwest Electric Cooperative member.
“It all started when a friend of his showed him a puzzle made with a photograph on wood and cut with a jigsaw. That really caught Dad’s interest,” says Sandra Edwards, one of Delmar’s daughters. It didn’t take him long to know he had to try it for himself.
He repurposed several tools from his years in construction, purchased a scroll saw and started playing around. “It wasn’t hard to learn,” Delmar says. “I have stacks of books with patterns where I browse for ideas I like, and I just began building from there.”
Soon the shelves in the garage were lined with Delmar’s creations. Wooden wreaths, picture frames, wall ornaments, cutting boards, puzzles and flower vases are just a few of the items he’s learned how to make with beautiful, intricate detail. On the mantel, a handmade wooden clock still chimes. In fact, his work is displayed on several walls of his house and those of friends and family.
“Every time we visit, he shows us what he’s been working on and sends us home with new pieces,” says daughter, Gwen Grogan. “I have Christmas ornaments he’s made and little wooden birds that I have set in plants around my home. I’m so impressed by what he can do. It looks easy until you try it.”
Delmar will usually work on one design for a couple hours a day. Depending on the project, one item can require anywhere from hours up to several days to complete. He uses solid wood and half-inch plywood, which he then sands and varnishes. Once the wood is glued to the pattern, the pieces are cut and hand-painted. All the pieces must fit together like a puzzle or else he must resize and re-cut them with his scroll saw.
“The scroll saw work I do is not half as intricate as what many folks do,” he humbly adds. “Normally scroll saw work is done using the intarsia style, where you make all the pieces out of different colored wood, but I don’t have the patience for that.” Delmar grins. “If you miss your line, it wouldn’t fit and you’d have to sand it. So, I cut all my pieces out of the same piece of wood and then stain them and paint them. They fit a lot better that way.”
Delmar also adjusts the patterns and redesigns them as he sees fit as the project unfolds. This allows him to add in his own style. “He loves experimenting with different mediums and developing new products,” says Gwen.
His most intricate work is the 28-by-36-inch “The Last Supper” which hangs in the Zion Lutheran Church in Bolivar.
“There’s over 800 pieces in all. The eyes are all separate pieces and a lot of the faces are several pieces too,” Delmar says. “I had to cut the sheet of wood into four sections because you can’t get that big of a piece in the scroll saw.”
“We were so surprised by how creative he is. We were like, ‘Where did that come from?’ ” Gwen says with a laugh. “The details in ‘The Last Supper’ piece amaze me. You can even see the individual pieces down to the minor details in the sandals and toes.”
Delmar’s woodwork shines with variety and layers of stories behind the scenes. Several pieces he’s made feature birds like chickadees and hummingbirds, and other animals such as penguins, fish and bears. “I used to do a lot of hunting and fishing,” he says. Incorporating those things into his art brings him much joy. “It’s a lot of work, but once you make that many boxes of stuff, you get the hang of it.”
Delmar doesn’t sell any of his woodworking, but he loves giving gifts.
“The more he gives away, it encourages him to make more,” Gwen says. “He recently gave Mom a beautiful wooden cross he created for their 75th anniversary.” All their children down to their great-great-grandchildren gathered around them to celebrate. “I’m just amazed at what he’s been able to make and the fact that he’s 96 and he keeps on creating.”
Any day spent woodworking is a good day for Delmar. Boxes of his time and vision surround him, as do a few shelves of his homemade wine, another hobby. Whether he’s working with wood or wine, he’s enjoying life and planning the next project. It’s hard for Delmar to pick a favorite from his collection.
“It’s all fun,” he says. “The next one I make is going to be my favorite.”
You can write to Delmar Carman at 2025 W. Northwood St., Bolivar, MO 65613.
Kaiser is a freelance writer from Hartville.