Marion couple carving artistic living from trees

ORIGINALLY WRITTEN TOM STOPPEL
Not everyone can transform a simple wooden log into a work of art. But those creative talents are possessed by Rick Sardou and Linda Goodwill, owners of R&L Creative Carvings at Marion County Lake.

“If you can imagine it, we can make it,” Sardou said. “This isn’t just a hobby, it’s been our livelihood for the past three years.”

Four years ago, the couple visited relatives in Pennsylvania.

On their return trip to Kansas, they stopped to visit an old friend, who had a contract with Cabela’s, the well-known store for hunting, fishing and outdoor gear, to supply carved gun cabinets.

“We stopped to see him and say hello and two days later we were still there,” Sardou said. “I had never seen anything like what he was making, so we started doing it ourselves when we got back to Kansas.”

Out of modest beginnings, a thriving business has blossomed.

“Four years ago, Linda and I couldn’t draw stick people,” Sardou said.

“Rodney gave us a how-to-draw animals book, so we sat at the table and did what the book said-make a zero here and a zero here-and we started drawing animals.

“Then we went out and carved them and I thought, ‘Wow, this is cool.’ We’ve come up with some pretty awesome looking stuff,” Goodwill said.

Gun cabinets, furniture, doors and decor highlight the couple’s repertoire.

With the motto, “We bring the outdoors in,” Sardou and Goodwill transform basic pieces of wood into indoor art pieces.

“We gear more toward the log cabins and the rustic outdoors look,” Goodwill said. “People request different things so we design and build them and it just keeps growing.”

Two years ago, Sardou was drawn into another creative outlet-chain-saw carvings.

“I was at the state fair and watched the chain-saw artist and he just make it look too easy,” Sardou said with a laugh. “I came home with all sorts of ideas and I created a lot of firewood and kindling, but I finally got something that looked like a bear and that was really exciting.

“So I tried again and it just kept getting a little bit better and a little bit easier and it became an addiction. Now every time I look at a tree, I wonder what I can make out of it.”

Goodwill said the couple’s best sellers have been the custom gun cabinets complete with hand-carved doors.

“They’re designed to look like trees, and then we’ll do carvings on the doors like deer, mountain lions or just about anything our customers want,” Goodwill said.

“We’ve built cabinets as small as 2-feet wide and as large as 4-feet wide, depending on how many guns they have,” Sardou said. “Linda does most of our cabinet work. I’ll cut it out, but she does just about all the carving work and she does a great job.”

“We haven’t had any rejects on our carvings,” Goodwill said. “And there are no duplicate carvings. It’s all original.”

“The only rejects we’ve had are on my chain-saw carvings,” Sardou said, shaking his head. “There are some bear paws and a dog head sitting on our lawn that I just couldn’t make work.”

Goodwill said the time it takes to complete a cabinet continues to get shorter as her skills improve.

“In the beginning, it took me about three weeks to do one door and about 25 erasers, but now I can do a nice door in about one week-including drawing, cutout and carvings,” she said.

“I research photographs of what people want or look through magazines to get ideas. People also send me pictures and I free hand draw it all. There’s no tracing or copying.”

Among the more unusual items the couple have created include a 4-foot-by-12-foot fireplace front that looks like a tree.

“It looks like there’s a fire burning in the bottom of this tree,” Sardou said. “We put his dad’s axe in it and carved his kids’ initials in it.”

Also making the unusual list was a gun case that looks like a tree stump.

Most of their sales come from their Web site (www.rlcreativecarvings. com).

“All the things on our Web site are things we either designed for ourselves because we needed them, or they’re from ideas people gave us or asked us to make,” she added.

“We’ve also done home remodeling shows, home shows and fairs-we’ve gone as far as Denver and the state of Texas.”

Their works have been shipped to New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, South Carolina and Wisconsin.

Sardou said prices are included on the Web site.

His chain-saw carving business is quickly gaining popularity, he added.

“We just did one, an 81/2-foot-tall bear that went to the Highway 54 Bar and Grill in St. Louis,” he said. “That’s their trademark in their lobby. They want four more pretty quick and one more every six months.”

To Sardou, creating wooden sculptures isn’t the most difficult aspect of the project.

“The trick is to find a 3-foot log that’s 9-foot tall to carve the bear out of,” he said. “We’ve talked to all the local tree trimmers, we drive by the tree dumps-just wherever we can find them.”

Sardou doesn’t have a favorite variety of wood.

“I’ve used elm, walnut, pine, cedar and white oak,” he said. “Hardwoods are a little harder to work with.”

If a tree happens to still be rooted in the ground, that’s no problem for Sardou.

“I’ll come to your house and carve in your yard, but the minimum is $400,” he said. “I’m going to carve a life-sized 6-foot-tall fisherman out of a tree for a man across the lake.”

The couple suggest orders for Christmas be submitted soon.

“We hope people will visit our Web site and get their orders in early,” Goodwill said. “The earlier the better.”

Although financial considerations are the motivating force behind the couple’s endeavors, the satisfaction they feel keeps the fires burning.

“To take a raw piece of wood and make some of the things we’ve been able to produce, we kind of step back and say, ‘Did we really do that?” Goodwill said. “The first piece we finished we were up until three in the morning because we were so excited.”

“It’s just an unbelievable feeling,” Sardou said.

Sometimes the couple hesitates to sell their works, but reality quickly sets in.

“That’s our business,” Goodwill said. “But we figure if it’s something we’d like to keep, it’s something our customers will be satisfied with.”

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