The Bird Carver’s Daughter (Part 2: the Pre-teen Years (or, Why I’m Not a Carver)

Guest post by Kari Jo Spear, Photographer, Novelist, and Daughter of Bob Spear

One summer when I was eight or nine years old, my father decided to give carving lessons. About a dozen people signed up, mostly teachers who knew him from the Audubon Society. But there were three people there who weren’t teachers–my mother, our eleven-year-old neighbor, and me. We met every Tuesday night in my father’s den. It was supposed to be a relaxed, casual gathering of people sitting in a circle making piles of shavings on the floor while they created a thing of beauty out of basswood as my father circled among them, offering his expert and benign advice.

Instead, it turned into a pain-filled bloodbath that caused me so much trauma that I have not even carved a jack-o-lantern since.

And most of it was the fault of the weather.

Continue reading “The Bird Carver’s Daughter (Part 2: the Pre-teen Years (or, Why I’m Not a Carver)”

The Bird Carver’s Daughter (Part 1: The Early Years)

Guest post by Kari Jo Spear, Photographer, Novelist, and Daughter of Bob Spear

When I was a little kid, I had no idea my father would one day have his own museum. I didn’t even know he carved birds. I just knew that he spent a lot of time down in his den, sitting in an old, brown, leather rocking chair with wide wooden arms, making a huge pile of shavings on the floor in front of him.

I loved the shavings. They came in all kinds of interesting shapes. Some were short and flat, some were long and twisting. No two were just alike. I would sit on the floor and make jewelry out of them — the long, curly ones made good earrings, and the shorter, curly ones could be hooked together for a bracelet. Some even curled around my fingers for rings. The flat shavings lined up to become roads or fences for my imaginary animals. And if I ever needed one of a certain shape or size, I just had to describe it, and my father would whittle off what I needed. The block of wood in his hands was not remotely interesting, not compared to the ever-growing pile of shavings. If I thought about the block of wood at all, I thought he was carving it up just to make toys for me. Continue reading “The Bird Carver’s Daughter (Part 1: The Early Years)”

Carving Update: Bufflehead

As mentioned in the winter’s Chip Notes, we were eagerly awaiting the debut of Dick Allen’s Bufflehead Duck carvings. They are here!

Bufflehead male, carved by Dick Allen
Bufflehead male, carved by Dick Allen

Bufflehead Ducks are characterized as small, diving ducks that migrate through the region on their way to summer grounds in Canada and Alaska from wintering sites in coastal and southern United States and Central America. Inhabiting ponds and small lakes where they consume crustaceans, mollusks, and insects underwater, Buffleheads nest in aspen and poplar tree cavities created by Northern Flickers. The male Bufflehead’s striking triangular white patch extending from the eyes to the rear of the head inspired the bird’s name. The Bufflehead’s ability to achieve a near-vertical take-off from the water’s surface is another reason we take special notice of this notable species.

Bufflehead female, carved by Dick Allen
Bufflehead female, carved by Dick Allen

The male and female pair will take their places with other waterfowl near Dick’s pair of Lesser Scaups in the Spring Migration scene of the Wetland Diorama.

Blue-winged Teal is our 2011 Raffle Bird

Ready to win?

For this year’s raffle bird, we offer a wood and cork decoy, carved and painted by Leo LaBonte of Essex Junction, Vermont. The bird is about 10.5” from beak to tail, and looks lovely in its temporary home by our guest register. Many visitors have already commented that it would look even nicer in a permanent home (theirs!). Tickets are $1 each, or buy 6 for $5. You can buy tickets by phone, if you like!

Leo LaBonte started carving a little over 12 years ago. He is mostly a self-taught carver with one class under his belt that helped him to overcome a few hurdles and smooth out the process. He mostly focuses on decoy carvings but has also carved ducklings, small songbirds, and a few figurines. He has won numerous awards for his decoys including the Art Knapp Hunting Decoy Contest and the Thousand Islands Museum Decoy and Wildlife Art Show. In more recent years he has also taught his two sons to carve, resulting in 2 more award-winning carvers in the family. In 2009 both sons won awards at the International Wildfowl Carvers Association Young Guns competition!

Although generously donating the Blue-winged Teal to the Museum, Leo usually sells his decoys. He is in the process of putting together a website (under construction as of this writing). If anyone is interested in contacting Leo please call or email the Museum (802) 434-2167 and

Wood Carving Class: An Eastern Bluebird with David Tuttle

Eastern Bluebird Woodcarving Class, taught by David Tuttle at the Birds of Vermont Museum
Eastern Bluebird Woodcarving Class, taught by David Tuttle at the Birds of Vermont Museum

Beginners and experienced wood carvers are invited to this one-day carving class with David Tuttle of the Green Mountain Woodcarvers. We will carve and paint an Eastern Bluebird. Wood blanks, eyes, paint, snacks and coffee will be provided. Please bring your own lunch (and carving tools if you have them).

Best for teens and adults.

Fee: $25 for members of either the Birds of Vermont Museum or Green Mountain Woodcarvers; $35 for non-members.

Please pre-register (you can pay ahead or at the door) by calling 802 434-2167 or emailing

Weekly Wood Carving Demonstrations

Bob Spear finishing a small carving
Bob Spear finishing a small carving

We’re pleased to offer again our Saturday wood carving demonstrations. Stop in (members get unlimited free admission) and find out who’s carving what this week. Ask questions, collect fresh ideas, learn a new technique.

Every Saturday from 1-2, upstairs in the Museum workshop.
Appropriate for all ages.
Free with Museum admission ($6, discounts for children, seniors, members).

Dick Allen, Contributing Carver

Dick Allen at work
Dick Allen at work on a new carving for the Museum

Dick Allen has always been fascinated by birds and started carving about 25 years ago. He is self-taught through books and carving magazines, with “lots of trial and error”. His carvings have been given to friends and family; some have been donated to charity. Many are on display in his home.

Dick considers himself an advanced amateur, and greatly admires Bob Spears’ work. “Bob is a master carver,” Dick says. About his own carvings, he adds, “I’m still waiting for one I consider ‘really good.’ ”

About Dick

In addition to carving for the Museum’s exhibits, Dick serves on the Board of Trustees, and volunteers for the Museum. His work is much appreciated.

To see more photos of Dick’s work, check out his page on our website:

Recent Carving Work (Bob in Florida)

While in his winter residence, Bob Spear met Steve Deam, a photographer. Steve’s been kind enough to send us a few photos to keep track of Bob’s recent work. Enjoy!

Bob working on his back porch in Cedar Key.  ©2011 Steve Deam, Used by permission.
Bob working on his back porch in Cedar Key.
©2011 Steve Deam, used by permission.
Bob Spear shaping a bird's body. ©2011 Steve Deam, Used by permission.
Bob Spear shaping a bird's body.
©2011 Steve Deam, used by permission.

These two photos were taken in January (I’m a little slow getting them publicized –the webmistress).  There are more recent ones in Steve’s online photo gallery about Bob:

Would you like to see more of Steve’s work? Check it out at, or browse through his blog at You can even encourage him to add more videos of his work.

Bob Spear, Master Woodcarver, turns 91!

Bob carving on his Florida porch.
Bob carving on his Florida porch. Photo ©2011 Gale Lawrence; used by permission.

Bob Spear, Master Woodcarver and Founding Director of the Birds of Vermont Museum, turns 91 on February 21st!

In 1979, he started a collection of bird carvings in hopes of someday establishing a location where people could come to see them and learn about birds. Bob is still carving and the Museum will open this spring with over 500 birds!

We like as many excuses for birthday cake as possible, so we plan to celebrate Bob’s birthday again in the summer when it is sunny and warm. Watch the Museum’s calendar of events for details.

Many people have already donated $91 to the Museum to honor Bob on his birthday. The Museum greatly appreciates these donations. For those wishing to make a donation in honor of Bob, please send a check to

Birds of Vermont Museum
900 Sherman Hollow Road
Huntington, VT 05462

Thank you!!

A Little History

Bob’s first carving was completed in 1938 when he carved a parakeet with just a penknife. This carving is on display at the Museum. He is also the author of the book, The Birds of Vermont, published in 1969 by the Green Mountain Audubon Society. In 1962 he was active in establishing the Green Mountain Audubon Center in Huntington and served as its first director for seven years. In 1987 the Birds of Vermont Museum opened, finally showcasing the collection he’d started in 1979. In addition to creating all the bird carvings on display, Spear also built the museum building and all the display cases. At the time of the opening, the museum housed only 231 bird carvings.

The length of time required for Spear to complete a carving varies widely, depending on the size of the bird. The Wild Turkey carving required 1,230 hours, while a small warbler might take only 20 hours. Can you identify the bird he’s working on above?

For more information about Bob’s accomplishments see

Identify the bird: Carving

Can you guess what bird Bob Spear will make from this block?  Hints may follow in later posts or comments, but please don’t let that keep you from sharing your ideas.

the Uncarved Block
the Uncarved Block