The Work of Ellis Olson


The Work of Ellis Olson

The master of folk art Santas shares his inspiration

In Woodcarving Illustrated Holiday 2012 (Issue 61), Ellis Olson showed how to carve “Checking the List,” an Old World Santa who is checking to see who is on his good list. Ellis also shared some of his background and a few photos of other carvings that didn’t fit into the magazine.
















In Ellis’ own words:

Over 40 years ago, I saw a carved cowboy caricature that appealed to me at a gift shop. I’m a do-it-yourself kind of guy, so with that little spark of interest my carving hobby was launched. Really not knowing how to proceed, I started with a fir 2X4 and a dull pocket knife. I could have really used a skilled woodcarving friend at that time. I stumbled along for several years, gaining a few basic woodcarving skills and fighting off discouragement. My carving was just in the novice class at best but I was really enjoying myself.

It was about this time there was an article in our local newspaper about Whittling Bill Higgenbothem. I went to southern Utah several times to visit with Bill. Later, I met Harold Enlow in Oklahoma City, Okla., and took a class from Harley Refsal in Decorah, Iowa. These skilled carvers all had apositive influence on my carving.

I started gathering all the knives and chisels that were available and kept looking for good carving wood. My carving style has developed over the years into my own unique style. I still carve some humorous cowboy caricatures but my main focus is on old world Santa’s. I am definitely a work in progress and look forward to new skills as time goes on. One lesson that failed to sink in from Bill, Harold and Harley was that you only need a few carving tools to make a masterpiece. Bill mostly used a pocket knife, Harold carried all his tools in a cigar box and Harley used a Sloyd knife that was carried on his belt.  I haven’t reached that point yet, but I’m working on it.

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About the Author

Ellis Olson lives in Nampa, Idaho, with his wife, Nora, and dog, Patches. Ellis has been carving for more than 40 years. To see more of his work, visit For questions or to inquire about roughouts, please e-mail Ellis at

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