Jim Von Stetton remembers he was planning on a simple “show and tell” presentation – but it turned into so much more. Recently back from Africa on a church missionary trip, Jim was just going to show some of the lovely wood pieces he had purchased during his time there to the Willow Valley Communities Carving Club. Jim’s father, Wayne Von Stetton, a member of the Carving Club, had fostered an appreciation for the craft in Jim from the time he was a child. The hobby was something they enjoyed together for many years. Father and son knew the other club members would also be interested in seeing the exquisite craftsmanship produced by artisans so far away.
During his presentation, Jim explained how, throughout his travels in Africa, he had seen men in the village markets and along the side of the road selling intricate carved wooden pieces. The artwork was magnificent, and they were priced at pennies on the dollar of what such carvings would be worth in America. Jim felt compelled to purchase them. Having grown up with the art, Jim knew personally when he saw these pieces being sold along the dirt roads of Africa what incredible talent it took to create them.
Jim also spoke to the club members about what he learned in Africa about the wood carvers: that the craft is passed down generation to generation – father teaching son, and so on – and that each village seemed to have its own artistic style. The pieces were made from different kinds of wood, whatever the men could find in the forest. Some were even made from ebony, an extraordinarily hard wood.
“The men who create the carvings sell the art as a way to support their large families,” Jim explained. “I was moved to pay far more than what they were asking—not out of a sense of charity, but because the pieces were worth far more than what the men were asking.” The admiration for the work only grew among the club members as Jim shared the implements used to create such beauty. “They used only very primitive tools – like a dull pocket knife, or an old, discarded restaurant knife.”
The members of the Willow Valley Carving Club were amazed. They knew first-hand what skill and precision it took to create their own works of art. Though it was a fun and enjoyable hobby, it took time, talent and concentration to carve intricate details out of wood. Also, they had the luxury of fine tools—something the men in Africa did not have.
Club members were moved to act. They knew they had extra tools among the members that the African artisans would certainly be able to use. Could Jim somehow help get them over to Africa to a carver who really needed them?
Jim was happy to help. He had a trusted contact in Africa who was able to get them to a grateful recipient, an African carver by the name of Armando Cunguara. Mr. Cunguara wrote a heartfelt thank you letter to the Carving Club Members —which they enjoyed after they had it translated! The members were so touched, and they were committed to continue to help others this way in the future.
Jim is quick to point out that the new tools simply serve to accelerate the process of bringing the talent and the skill passed down through generations of training to beautiful fruition. Having higher quality tools enables them to create their amazing pieces faster and with more ease, assisting in the support of their families.
Wayne Von Stetton summed up the sentiment beautifully. “Wood carving has always brought me joy, but it’s only ever been a hobby. I’m so proud to be a member of the Willow Valley Carving Club which enabled me to take my lifelong artistic talent to the next level.” he said, “And, I am especially proud of my son Jim who inspired the group to help artists halfway around the world to support their families.”