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WATERLOO — Jerry Schierholz began carving “comfort birds” several years ago. He read in a magazine about a Pennsylvania carver who made them and because there was a pattern included, he tried it out.

Now he’s carved more than 250 — “headed toward 300,” he says. And that’s not all. His repertoire includes relief carvings, chip carvings, animals such as deer and horses, birds and characters.

Jerry Schierholz

Jerry Schierholz and some of his wood carvings.  

The Marion retiree, 87, has been carving wood for close to 40 years. On Saturday and Sunday, he’ll be the featured carver at the 46th annual Iowa State Woodcarvers show, hosted by the Northeast Iowa Woodcarvers.

“I never tire of it. It’s something I enjoy doing, and I plan to keep carving as long as I can,” Schierholz says. Relief carving is a favorite activity “because it’s like creating a picture in wood. But I’m not into carving realistic birds, and I’m a paint procrastinator. I’d rather not paint a piece.”

Schierholz graduated from Monona High School in 1949, served in the U.S. Navy for four years and in 1955 met his wife at a Guttenberg dance. They wed several months later. He worked for a telephone company until his retirement in 1985. He drove a truck for about a year before retiring for good. “I’ve been retired 34 years — longer than I worked,” he notes.

He learned carpentry skills from his father and did carpentry, finish work and built furniture as a hobby until he took a basic woodcarving class at Des Moines Area Community College in 1982. He was hooked.

“It was something I’d had an interest in for a while. I had some tools from when I was in the Navy,” the carver explains. “Most carvers go for basswood. butternut, cedar, white cedar, white pine, catalpa — anything that carves easy, I enjoy.”

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Schierholz is a member of the Northeast Iowa Woodcarvers, as well as the Cedar Rapids Woodcarvers. He’s served as president and filled other board posts at both clubs. He’s taught basic woodcarving for many years, including at the Wickiup Hill Learning Center in Toddville, Kirkwood College and Cottage Grove Retirement Center, both in Cedar Rapids, and a Thursday night class at Lutheran Church of the Resurrection in Marion.

“I have some carvers who started out when they were 10 or so and are still carving now. One young man started carving when he was 10, and I told him when he got to high school he’d get interested in girls and forget about carving. He told me, ‘I’ll never forget about carving,’” Schierholz says, smiling.

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“Carvers like sharing their work, and I want to get people interested in carving. Not long ago, we began a class at Wickiup, had 40 people sign up and 30 actually showed up. That’s gratifying.”

But he’s most passionate about carving comfort birds. From start to finish, it takes him about an hour to carve a bird by hand, then sand and seal it. He uses Howard Feed-n-Wax wood polish and conditioner to make the wood grain “pop,” he says, “and because the wax warms to your hand, so as you hold the bird, it almost feels alive.”

Schierholz gives his birds away to people he believes need solace or comforting at nursing homes, care centers, hospitals, through his church and at carving shows.

“I never sell them, but I’ll accept donations for the cost of materials. I’m not trying to make money. Anything left, I donate to charity. I’m just trying to do something good for people, to lift their spirits when they need it,” Schierholz says.

“The stories I hear back from people bring tears to my eyes. I told my daughter that if carving comfort birds is all I get done for the rest of my life, I’ll be happy.”

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