Whimsical creatures
Ray Briscoe shows off his carving skills in his Elkton home studio. His original artwork will be on display at the Wilmington Riverfront this weekend.

Elkton artist Ray Briscoe will be among 170 master craftsmen who will showcase their work in the Pennsylvania Guild of Craftsmen’s Fine Craft Fair this weekend at the Chase Center on the Riverfront in Wilmington.

Though the show is only in its fourth year, 59-year-old Briscoe has been a member of the guild for nearly 20 years.

“I carve whimsical wood carvings – whimsical creatures and such,” he said.

Briscoe joined the guild not long after he started carving full-time, and soon after that, he received the title of master craftsman, a mark of achievement that distinguishes work from the mainstream.

“I was always carving, even as a child,” he said.

He was given his first knife at age 7 as a gift from his grandfather, and even while he pursued a degree in chemistry during his college years, he took art classes that helped him refine his carving skills. 

“I picked up my style myself,” he said, though customers occasionally offer input on his designs. “Sometimes customers will ask me if I can carve such and such, and if I like it, I’ll do it for them.”

But most of the time, he just carves what he thinks “will be fun to make,” he said.

Briscoe has created a wide variety of animal designs, as well as seasonal characters. Among his large collection of wood carvings are a family of rabbits clad in colorful attire, a group of vegetable people dressed in overalls, and a Santa Claus-like figure wearing an Easter bunny costume.

Briscoe said he does all of his carving at his home studio. After he comes up with an idea for a design, he first sketches it onto a piece of wood and then cuts out an outline of the design with a band saw.

“From there, I just carve it out with a simple knife,” he said. “Depending on the size of it, it can take quite a lot of time.”

The final step of the process, he said, is to paint the carving.

Like each of the other 169 master craftsmen’s works that will be featured in the fine craft fair this weekend, no two of Briscoe’s creations are alike, and each is individually handmade.

The Pennsylvania Guild Fine Craft Fair will be open Saturday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission is $8 for adults and free for children under 12.

As one of the largest non-profit craft organizations in the country, the Pennsylvania Guild works closely with 1,300 craftsmen in 33 states. The fair will include fine crafts such as furniture, clothing, jewelry, household goods, sculpture, fine art and decorative works.

In addition, this year’s show will offer 12 demonstration areas where craftsmen will show how individual crafts are created. Among the presentations will be information on embossed paper and mold making, theorem painting, wood turning, tatted jewelry, marble carving, spoon making and weaving.

“Our mission is all about celebrating craft, the craft-maker and the individual who uses craft in their everyday life,” executive director Sherrie Boyer said. “So connecting a lover of craft with the craft-maker and connecting the merging artist with the expert not only keeps our craftsmen vibrant, but it also develops a future culture of appreciation for the handmade.”

For more information on the Pennsylvania Guild of Craftsmen Fine Craft Fair, visit www.pacrafts.org.

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