Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Old Orchard Carvings

Thanks for taking a minute to read about something that doesn't directly relate to travel. But to tie it all together, my brother, Kevin, lives very close to the Finger Lakes Trail (FLT) that is apart of the North Country Trail (NCT). I have on several occasions gone to his house and hiked the FLT in the surrounding area, I have also got him to come with me for a portion of it. Over time I'd like to piece together all part of that trail. The New York Finger Lakes Region is beautiful, a high plateau, punctuated by deep glacial lakes, gorges cut through shale rock, high waterfalls, and a good climate for wine. The FLT winds through protected forests, state parks and game lands, along roads, and over private lands with the blessing of the owner. The FLT seems to me what the Appalachian Trail was in days of yore, when no one thought it could be thru-hiked, when parts of the Trail were obscured and other parts more than rough. The romance of this is as nearly as drawing to me as the spell that the Appalachian Trail has for me.

I was excited when Sam Gardner from The Initiative passed through this area on his attempt to hike the four big long distance trails in the country. Unfortunately his attempt failed due to some physical problems. I wanted to get my brother to meet him out on the trail with a bag of cheese burgers! Hopefully Sam will re-attempt and make it through the area again so maybe that can happen!

Old Orchard Carvings

Big news for my big brother! Kevin is finally going digital to sell his hand made chainsaw carvings. I wouldn't normally post something concerning the selling of a product, but come on, he's my bro and I'd love to see him make some decent sales. I'd love to see a carving sitting on someone's front porch and wonder if it was one of his pieces.

The back story stretches over the past nine years. Cara and I were at his cabin in the Finger Lakes region of New York, when Cara asked what got him started on carving? What could possibly motivate a person to pick up a chainsaw and make a sculpture? My brother, the preeminent story-teller, was too happy to oblige with a yarn!

He was living in Nashville, NC at the time. He and I had been tooling around in the back-yard. His first craft was putting together blocks of firewood, like roughed out furniture, as practice he made a sledge hammer and some other things. Eventually he had the idea of carving a bunny rabbit and then a snail with nail eye-stalks. He set these aside and forgot about them. Weeks later, around Easter, he was selling some live rabbits when a customer asked how much for the carved rabbit. And thus it began!

The workshop

 Kevin began experimenting, learning his style, and which cuts worked better and what effects he wanted on the animals. Once he got enough inventory he went to some art shows. Most of these shows were very disheartening, barely paying for the gas or the site to setup on. After a time he figured he could sell himself to some events as a draw. For example, I visited him and he had a show at Montezuma Winery. He setup a net around himself and began carving right on the side of the road. People see him doing this and have another reason to stop and see the rest of the small festival (as an aside, that was also the first time I had Wine Slushies, I suggest you try them!)
One cute bear

He has been to many shows now, and has done substantially better in the NY venues than he did in North Carolina. I think in Western NC where people are possibly on vacation are more likely to have cabins and such he would have done better. But Eastern NC really isn't good for anything except for driving through to get somewhere else! I have been with him to Forksville, PA for a show, and to Frederick, MD. He's been to shows from here to Michigan! He was a regular at the Windmill, a craft and farmers market local to him. The problems with shows are they aren't steady, there is substantial cost to get to the show with the carvings and on a whim the event might have no draw (weather related or any number of factors). He has on occasion been stopped on his way to a show and sold carving right off his trailer to an interested driver, but driving around is a rather expensive way to get sales!

Cabin relief carving

Another of his avenues of sales is the consignment method at other people's store front. This is a method to get out there, however there are issues with this method also, including a large reduction in net money earned and possible issues with dishonest store owners. Another avenue that he did several times was to make a very large bulk order, in the neighborhood of 100 pieces, and deliver them to a guy in Tennessee. Of course selling bulk greatly reduces revenue, and delivering them 16 hours away at 7 miles to the gallon rather cuts into margins.

 He also does stump jobs - which are probably some of his most interesting pieces, as they are custom jobs. Recently someone had him carve dinosaurs into a stump they had in their back yard! One draw back to most of his work is that it is seasonal. All the shows occur during the spring, summer, fall months as do the custom stump jobs. This leaves a gap in his year that needs to be filled with not just carving, but selling some carvings too.

Kevin lives off-grid. He has solar panels to charge batteries for lights at night. He just recently got wireless internet access that he can connect to with his laptop while he has juice. A lot of his finishing for his carvings is done by hand or with the assist of a generator. This poses hardship and makes it that much more difficult for him do pretty much everything. I have wanted for years for him to attempt to get on EBay or make a website of his own. I don't live close enough or I would have pushed hard, taken more pictures of his product.
In progress Dinosaur custom stump carving

He found the website ETSY and it is perfect for him, it is cheap to host and they take care of a lot of the back-end details. He can easily upload photos and descriptions to his site. Also it's on a site where people go looking for hand-made crafts.

Kevin has talent, talent that I certainly don't have. I would like to see him do well in his chosen lifestyle of being off grid and independent. Of course he can't be totally off grid and run a business simultaneously, but it is certainly worthwhile to live off grid and work with a highly reduced footprint.

His website on ETSY is called Old Orchard Carvings. The story behind that name is that on his property is an apple orchard with trees that are probably over a hundred years old. These tree are twisted and hollow, but they still produce apples of a variety you will not find in any store or farmers market.