By Bob Duncan
Over the past 40 years, Floyd Rhadigan has taught thousands of people how to carve. His clear instructions and appealing designs have become as well known in the carving world as his sparkling eyes, leather vest, and long hair, and his speedy knife and tireless travel schedule are legendary. A dedicated instructor who offers classes in his home workshop and at venues literally coast to coast, Floyd teaches an average of 60 classes each year—more than one a week. He has also shared his designs and techniques in three books and many magazine articles, organizes an annual carve-in attended by hundreds, and sells an extensive line of roughouts used by carvers of all skill levels.
“You can find Floyd teaching at clubs and roundups all around the country,” said Alan Giagnocavo, the publisher of Woodcarving Illustrated magazine. “He attends club shows and judges club carving competitions. He maintains a prolific teaching schedule and is really passionate about sharing carving with others. His dedication to teaching and sharing his passion makes Floyd an ideal Woodcarver of the Year.”
Floyd Rhadigan grew up in his family’s sign shop, working with wood and carving as needed. He served in the U.S. Army during the Vietnam War, returning to the sign shop afterward. As time passed, he started spending more time with a family friend, Smoky Joe Briemuiller, who carved small animals, Indians, and Hill People. “He was one of those characters who fascinated me as a child,” Floyd said. “He had the aroma of wood and cigar smoke about him.”
Around 1970, Floyd started carving with Smoky Joe. “Smoky Joe showed me the basics,” Floyd said. “How to make a pattern, how to cut out a blank with a band saw, how to make a knife from a straight razor, and, more importantly, how to keep that knife sharp. I used that knife and a box of patterns and began to carve as much as I could.”
A new world of carving opened when Floyd picked up Harold Enlow’s book Carving Figure Caricatures in the Ozark Style. “I thought I had died and gone to heaven,” Floyd said. “Harold (who has often been called the grandfather of American caricature carving) not only carved the way I wanted to learn, but he also introduced me to palm tools. They were what I was missing!”
Floyd carved every project and every idea in Harold’s many books. “I started to develop my own style—a mix between Ozark and flat-plane Scandinavian carving,” Floyd said. Rather than carving the cowboys and hillbillies standard to those styles, however, Floyd leaned toward the fantasy genre. His interest led him to carve figures like Bilbo Baggins and orcs from J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. He has carved dragons, elves, trolls, and wizards, as well as classic cartoon characters, such as Marvin the Martian and Popeye. Fulfilling another personal interest in recent years, he has also produced respectful caricatures of Civil War soldiers and modern military personnel.
In 1976, Floyd began teaching carving at an adult education program. As his work became better known, he began teaching and participating in woodcarving shows around Michigan and, later, the country. (He notes that he particularly enjoys teaching his students how to carve a face and loves to show his method for painting eyes.) Eventually, he was teaching carving full-time and building an impressive inventory of both roughouts used by carvers of all skill levels. In addition, his original artwork can be found in the homes of collectors worldwide.
In 2005, Floyd won the best of show award at the Caricature Carvers of American (CCA) Carving Competition. A year later came what Floyd calls “the biggest honor in my career” when he was invited to join “the club all my heroes belong to, the Caricature Carvers of America,” Floyd said. In 2011 and again in 2013, Floyd was voted president of the CCA. He remains an active member of the organization.
The bark carver Rick Jensen, the 2014 Woodcarver of the Year, has known Floyd and admired his work for years. “I just love the whimsical twist he puts on his figures. He does some really unique stuff. I remember the first piece of Floyd’s that I saw, back in 2004 at the Sauder Village show. He had a carving that just blew me away. It was called Cool Cats, and it was a bunch of cats with instruments in a band.”
Rick and Floyd have taught at many of the same venues over the years. “Floyd is a natural teacher who really enjoys helping his students learn to carve better,” said Rick. “And his extensive collection of roughouts helps beginners get started carving without worrying about expensive tools to saw out blanks. He’s dynamite. Floyd can carve like a machine! He just loves carving.”
The newest Woodcarver of the Year is profiled in the Winter 2016 issue of Woodcarving Illustrated. Check out the issue HERE or at your local newsstand.