Rick Bütz is the 2004 Woodcarver of the Year


By Roger Schroeder

There’s little if any doubt in my mind that Rick Bütz has done more to popularize woodcarving than anyone else in the field. His first book, How to Carve Wood, has sold close to a quarter of a million copies, and as the host of the PBS series “Woodcarving with Rick Bütz,” he has been a visitor to my home and millions of others. Because of these contributions, as well as his other writings and hands-on classes, Rick is Woodcarving Illustrated’s 2004 recipient of the Woodcarver of the Year Award.

Rick, whose surname is pronounced ‘boots,’ started carving when he was only five years old, learning basic techniques from his father. His first projects were Polynesian-style tikis, based on the monolithic heads of Easter Island. Rick remarked that he sold them to schoolmates, making an early connection between carving and the financial rewards of the craft.

beaverAlthough Rick studied art in college and did a stint as an advertising photographer, I suspect the most fortuitous influence on his career was meeting his wife, Ellen. Thanks to her roots in the Adirondack Mountains region of New York, Rick settled down with her in Blue Mountain Lake, N.Y., a town so rural that the nearest Starbucks coffee shop is 100 miles away. A carver in her own right, Ellen photographed much of Rick’s work in progress for books and magazines, and she was a behind-the-scenes assistant for the television episodes. Rick described her as “the glue that holds it all together.”

Enamored of Taunton Press’s Fine Woodworking magazine, Rick contributed three carving articles in the late 1970s and early 1980s. When the director of the book division realized the sales potential for a book devoted to Rick’s approach to carving, a publishing career was set in motion. Although it took three years to complete, How to Carve Wood is still a staple resource for many of us in this field. The book has been on my shelf since its first printing in 1984 and I continue to refer to it. Expect to find in this 216-page volume a treasure trove of information backed up with clear photos, crisp illustrations, and straightforward instructions. Tips on tools, workspace, sharpening, woods, finishes, designs, and styles of carving abound. If this book does not get you excited about woodcarving, I doubt that anything will ignite the fire to take tools to wood. Rick shares, with no small amount of pride, that How to Carve Wood has been translated into other languages. The German translation, he’s learned, is the best-selling book on the subject in Germany.

birdThanks to the success of the book, television station WMHT in Schenectady, N.Y., approached Rick to host instructional programs. The nearly 100 episodes, shot over a nine-year period, went on the air nationally and have even been distributed to European countries.

I asked Rick about the feedback he received from viewers. The response was 100 percent positive, he noted. But one letter still finds a warm spot in his memory. The writer shared with Rick the extent of his cardiac problems. According to the man’s physicians, life was to offer little more than a sedentary existence with television watching seemingly the main activity. It was fortunate that he did turn on the TV and happened onto Rick’s programs. If this guy can do it, I certainly can, the heart patient figured. The man is now actively carving and has garnered at least one first-prize ribbon at a competition.

chipcarvingRick continued to write, penning a step-by-step series for Stackpole Books devoted to woodland creatures, warblers, Santas, and American eagles. The upstate area of New York state he and Ellen still make home lent inspiration and reference for much of the material in these volumes. Rick developed a love affair with the warblers of the area and translated these Easter-egg-colorful wildfowl into wood. The local fauna of the region, which includes chipmunks, river otters, and red foxes, also made its way into a volume. The clean-to-the-molecules mountain air, filled with the delicious scent of coniferous trees, resonates in another book with projects that include Adirondack Santa and his bear.

Whether it’s been a made-for-television presentation or a book, Rick has had a clear purpose in mind: Present woodcarving in a non-threatening way. “Hey, that’s easy. I can do it!” viewers and readers have exclaimed when carving a Rick Bütz nautical eagle or an impressionistic warbler. I count myself among the thousands who voiced those very words.

hikingForty years after he started carving, Rick now works for the Veterans Administration, helping people with health concerns. It wasn’t much of a stretch to pursue a career in that field. Woodcarving has offered mental, physical, and emotional therapy to countless numbers of people, Rick points out. Yes, he still carves, although that’s mainly reserved for weekends, and he conducts several classes a year. Somehow he’s found time to work on a novel devoted to the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, fleshing out the “mystery and intrigue” of the horrific event, and expects to have it finished this year. Despite the career change—which had been a goal set years ago, Rick plans to return to carving fulltime in the future. In the meantime, he’s minting fresh ideas and projects for that inevitability. I anxiously await the results.

armsAs the fourth recipient of this award, his plaque states: Wood Carving Illustrated 2004 Woodcarver of the Year Award Presented To Rick Bütz. Through his craftsmanship and artistry, his expertise as an instructor, his contributions to publications and other media, and his promotion of woodcarving, Rick has earned respect and praise from the carving community.

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

CLICK HERE to visit Rick Butz’s website.

CLICK HERE to purchase books by Rick Butz.


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