ECC graduate/local carver recognized for Santa figurines
What does it take to create an elaborately crafted and painted Santa figurine that stands only three to four inches high? Carver and Santa enthusiast Mark Klein would say all you need is a 4” block of wood, a vision, a sketch, and a wife to paint the finished carving. And he should know … the 1971 graduate of Ellsworth Community College has been labeled one of the leading Santa carvers in the world. He is featured on the 2012 holiday issue of Carving magazine.
Klein says he was first drawn to carving as a young boy. While in Silver Dollar City he saw carvings on display and thought, “wow, that would be cool to do.” It was then that he decided to buy a book on carving. Since Santas were one of his childhood favorites, he started with that.
Klein and his wife, Janet, met in their high school art class and dated each other for six years prior to getting married. Klein continued to study art at Ellsworth Community College in Iowa Falls. At ECC, he remembers drawing still life pieces. “We would see our image, identify it, and draw and redraw. The detail isn’t there until you see deeper and learn about what identifies one object from another,” he said. Klein said he enjoyed learning different things about life in his art classes. “To critically think is a skill that is very important to learn. It challenges you,” he said.
The couple started carving and selling Santa figurines about 23 years ago. “Any hobby I had would have to pay its own way,” he said. Their first Santa was sold in 1989, and they kept selling locally to people they knew. He tried to have them sold out of a shop in Des Moines, but they were offered only a minimal amount of money considering the work they had done. It wasn’t until he came across a Christmas issue of Better Homes and Gardens magazine that he negotiated a contract to have his Santa figurines sold and promoted by Scott Schultz. Today, Klein’s customers appreciate the skill that goes into the Santas, and he has even established regular customers. “People search them out now; I’m starting to have a reputation out there,” he said.
Klein’s visions are turned into sketches, and from there they become carvings. He has moments when he sits and quiets himself and thinks about all angles of what the carving will look like before he starts sketching. “Sketches are a quick attempt to capture a movie of what would happen if such and such would do this and that. It’s all part of the fun of exploring things in your mind,” he says. “What would I be doing if I was the one making these movements?” he asks himself. From there, he creates something to look at from every angle. The Santas are made uniquely. There are no two alike, and they take one to two years each to create, from the thought process to the sketching and ultimately the carving.
When he is finished, his wife, Janet, begins the process of painting. “It’s amazing how many impossible places I give her to get paint into. It can take her three weeks to paint a Santa sometimes. Her painting is absolutely precise. Everything is about precision,” he said.
Klein enjoys partnering with his wife on their Santa projects. ”We’ve always been a good team. She has always been there for me, and I’ve been there for her. We aren’t just husband and wife; we are also best friends. It’s a joint enterprise; she sees things I turn blind to. It’s easy to get lost in the pieces,” he said.
Klein’s carving, Silence of a Winter’s Night, was featured on the Holiday issue of Carving magazine recently. The cover captures three screaming Santas on a sled going down a hill. “It is anything but silence,” he said, chuckling. “I had to visualize what I would be doing if I were the one going down on a sled like that … from my facial reaction to what I would be trying to grab hold of.”
Klein said being featured on the cover of Carving magazine was great, that it was a high for him. “Not just to be featured on the cover, but to have a layout of six pages, was great,” he said. The six pages mapped out how sketches evolve into a carving, showing the thought process and immense detail that goes into every visual aspect.
The Kleins now have one carving in every state and two in Europe. They plan to continue producing these magical Santa carvings, which have become desired household decorations, for years to come!