Carver creates works of art from simple pieces of wood
When Hurricane Irma barreled through Florida in late September, an estimated 4.2 million cubic yards of fallen trees, branches and fences were reduced to an unrecognizable pile of twisted branches, exposed roots and stumps.
That left woodcarver Michael Von Schroth with plenty of raw material.
From November to early April, Michael sets up shop near Gators’ Crossroads Restaurant and Bar at the intersection of U.S. 41 East and San Marco Road in eastern Collier County.
“It was pure serendipity,” he says of his winter locale in Naples. When not in Florida, Michael is in Dahlonega, Georgia.
What started as a hobby now supports Michael and his family.
“Before I started to carve, I did mostly odd jobs and construction work,” he says, noting he was inspired by a friend from Missouri who carved tiki faces with a chisel and mallet. “My brother Kevin and I carved together throughout the 1990s. Our sons eventually picked it up.”
Currently, his stepson, Luke Parker, and a family friend, Devonte Young, help him with finish work. When they have mastered their apprenticeships, Michael says, they will begin carving.
“Around 1990, I started using chainsaws,” Michael says.
His tools of the trade are a Husky for big jobs, a Stihl for medium-sized tasks and an Echo for detail work.
“I started for the fun, attention and love for creation,” Michael says. “I still wake up after 29 years with the same passion.”
He estimates he has created around 100,000 figures. His specialty is marine and wildlife figures, such as dolphins, pelicans, eagles, sea turtles, owls and bears. He also makes short totem poles.
“I try to carry a variety of everything because people are traveling from different places and may want marine life even though I may be in the mountains of Georgia,” Michael says. “I won’t do dogs, cats or horses because those pets are too personal. I can’t recreate a specific animal, only its likeness.”
The smallest piece he has carved was a 2-inch-tall pelican. His biggest was 13.5 feet tall. He dreams of creating an even larger, more complex piece. His vision is to show a baby dolphin’s first breath, with its mother pushing it to the surface. Incorporated into the piece will be sea creatures watching the birth.
“Carving is a full-time job, seven days a week,” he says, noting he loves to do unique commission work.
Michael typically works with cypress because of its quality and longevity.
“I want my pieces to last even when I’m gone,” he says. “Black walnut is my favorite, but it’s hard to come by. The results are beautiful.”
The genesis of each piece starts with an idea and then a chainsaw. Nothing is drawn out ahead of time.
“Everything I see is three dimensional,” Michael says. “I can’t draw on a piece of paper because I can’t see flat. I am also color blind. The chainsaw is the pencil.”
After the carving is complete, Michael power-sands each piece multiple times to make it smooth. He then uses a small torch to burn the wood. The burning brings out the texture and wood grain.
“Carving a piece doesn’t take too long because of my experience,” Michael says. “Fine, finished pieces can take up to two weeks depending on the type of wood I use. Nothing is sold without the proper, fine finish. Depending on the placement of the sculpture, the finish is either oil finish or spar urethane.”
Prices for his work start at around $150. Although he often creates the same figure, each piece is unique. He signs carvings with a black marker in front of the buyer, guaranteeing it is an original.
“Sometimes you have to change the piece midway according to how the wood grows and maintain the integrity of a certain part in the wood, which creates a one-of-a-kind piece,” Michael says. “I start from a log, knowing each piece will be similar, but one of its own.”
Michael’s shop is at 19820 East Tamiami Trail. He can be contacted at email@example.com or (706) 429-7094.