Wood Carver of the Year

Desiree Hajny is the 2003 Woodcarver of the Year

desireeBy Roger Schroeder

It’s not easy choosing one person out of the hundreds of thousands of people who carve as a hobby or profession to receive WCI’s annual Woodcarver of the Year Award. So many talented carvers, so little space to honor them all, I think to myself. But long lists of necessity become short ones, and Desiree Hajny was among a small but select number of finalists. When I brought up her name at a staff meeting, I saw many nods of approval.

Given the responsibility of making the final choice for the award, I felt good my colleagues were impressed with Desiree. I knew she authored a number of books; her carved compositions show a flair for the artistic; and I first met her when she was instructing a carving class near my home. But before arriving at the final decision, I made inquiries among my contacts in the carving community, looking for a consensus that would ensure Desiree’s place as Woodcarver of the Year for 2003. While I wasn’t surprised at the accolades I heard, I was somewhat taken aback by the intensely warm feelings that carvers have for her. Peter Ortel dropped me a note after we spoke, articulating what he believes are among Desiree’s greatest attributes. It reads in part:

I first met Desi, as everyone calls her, when I was fortunate enough to get into one of her seminars at the International Woodcarvers Congress in Davenport, Iowa. I was very new to woodcarving at the time, but I was like a sponge, ready to soak up whatever I could from Desi. I was thrilled with her teaching method and how she gave her all to her students with warmth and professionalism. It’s quite an achievement to simultaneously teach ten to 12 carvers from different walks of life, with various carving skills and experience levels, and at the end of the class to have everyone feel more than satisfied with his or her project. It takes a very special instructor to accomplish this, and in my opinion Desi is truly one of the finest instructors out there.

wolvesAuthor. Artist. Instructor. Wanting to know more about this remarkable woman, I called her. When I sat down to review my notes, I found a few more key words that help round out the portrait of Desiree: humble, talented, creative, dedicated, selfless. I also discovered a person who consciously seeks the right balance of goals, commitments, and family interaction in her life.

When she was a child, Desiree told me, she dreamed of being an illustrator and hoped one day to be the first female editorial cartoonist. Believing that she needed to be grounded in a solid profession as she worked toward that end, she pursued a career in public education. For six years, starting in 1979, she taught art to high school students in Bassett, Neb. “These were ranch kids,” she said, “who, without a high regard for art, were more familiar with pocket knives than pastels. So we did a unit on woodcarving. They loved the work and I got to learn all about carving.”

Desiree left teaching to stay at home with her newborn son Jeff and began using her artistic skills to bring in some supplemental income. T-shirts, greeting cards, and eventually woodcarvings and classes filled the time not occupied by motherhood.

Although her earliest carving tool was a hobby knife, Desiree experimented with hand and power tools, taking risks and “getting braver”. She started with simple yet realistic animal forms. But her artistic training and experience were restless to push beyond the generally accepted boundaries that defined presentation. Today, her compositions jump out at you with their innovative uses of freeform, flow, and even voids.

horseDesiree’s work has been accepted by her peers with critical acclaim. In competitions, she has taken 15 best-of-show honors, over 75 first-place ribbons, and six people’s choice awards. When I asked her to reveal the secret of her competitive successes, hers was a humble answer: “I happened to be in the right place at the right time.”

Her accomplishments do not stop with ribbons and plaques. She was a charter member of the Caricature Carvers of America (CCA), an organization founded in 1990 to promote an appreciation of caricature carving and encourage its growth. She contributed to both of the CCA’s major group projects, the Full Moon Saloon and the Caricature Carvers of America Circus. Because of her many other commitments, she offered to leave the organization to permit a new member to take her place. The CCA insisted she stay and gave her emeritus status.

Desiree’s work has also been accepted in the commercial community, including Walt Disney World. In 1998 she and her family were invited to Orlando, Fla., to watch a parade in which procession leaders, dressed as shamans, carried four of her carvings.

“This was a commission we were sure we wouldn’t get,” Desiree says. “We reworked the plans Disney World sent us and returned them. I was tickled just to get the opportunity to submit a bid, but we did end up with the job.”

The creation of four “jingle sticks” is a testament to her creativity. Each is a 9-foot-tall cane studded with tambourine cymbals and topped with a realistic carving of either a leopard or zebra head.

tiger2Desiree, who now lives in Eckert, Colo., still manages to keep her life in balance while pursuing other commercial enterprises. Her most recent venture is an alliance with Mill Creek Studios, Inc., of Mentone, Calif. Mill Creek works with a select number of artists each year to make wildlife artwork available as castings.

“We’re excited to have someone of Desiree’s caliber among the artists we represent,” says Travis Herrero, sales and marketing director for Mill Creek. “The artwork she creates, very contemporary in design, offers a new look to the gift industry.”

In our phone conversation, she often interjected loving comments about her son Jeff, and husband Bernie, who is her business manager. She also commented on the carving community as a whole, praising its unconditional willingness to share techniques and ideas. And she offered how much she enjoys watching other carvers, and especially her students, grow artistically.

As the third recipient of this award, her plaque states: Wood Carving Illustrated 2003 Woodcarver of the Year Award Presented To Desiree Hajny. Through her craftsmanship and artistry, her expertise as an instructor, her contributions to publications and other media, and her promotion of woodcarving, Desiree has earned respect and praise from the carving community.

The staff at Wood Carving Illustrated and Fox Chapel Publishing wishes Desiree many more years of artistic and personal accomplishments.

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CLICK HERE to view more of Desiree Hajny’s work.

CLICK HERE to purchase books by Desiree Hajny.

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