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updated: 11/23/2011 2:52 PM

Gilberts artist's wares featured at Christmas show

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  • John Warnock of Gilberts has had a lifetime of art projects. From pastels and chalk drawings to woodcarving and lathe work he has settled on pine needle baskets and carving eggshells as his latest craft. Warnock will display his work at the Christmas on the Fox Art and Craft Show this weekend.

       John Warnock of Gilberts has had a lifetime of art projects. From pastels and chalk drawings to woodcarving and lathe work he has settled on pine needle baskets and carving eggshells as his latest craft. Warnock will display his work at the Christmas on the Fox Art and Craft Show this weekend.
    Steve Berczynski | Staff Photographer

  • John Warnock of Gilberts began carving eggshells in 2005. He makes designs using the natural colors in the layers of the eggs. He mounts the finished product on wood and materials he finds in his backyard.

       John Warnock of Gilberts began carving eggshells in 2005. He makes designs using the natural colors in the layers of the eggs. He mounts the finished product on wood and materials he finds in his backyard.
    Steve Berczynski | Staff Photographer

  • John Warnock of Gilberts began making pine needle baskets and carving eggshells about five years ago. He can finish an egg in approximately two weeks and a basket in anywhere from one to three weeks depending on the stitching pattern he uses.

       John Warnock of Gilberts began making pine needle baskets and carving eggshells about five years ago. He can finish an egg in approximately two weeks and a basket in anywhere from one to three weeks depending on the stitching pattern he uses.
    Steve Berczynski | Staff Photographer

  • John Warnock of Gilberts began carving eggshells in 2005. When he makes these lace designs it takes extreme concentration and control to avoid breaking the shell. He sells some of the more intricately carved lace eggs for $1,100.

       John Warnock of Gilberts began carving eggshells in 2005. When he makes these lace designs it takes extreme concentration and control to avoid breaking the shell. He sells some of the more intricately carved lace eggs for $1,100.
    Steve Berczynski | Staff Photographer

 
 

John Warnock traded steel for eggshells after his tool and die business took a sharp drop in 2000. He traces his first business's decline to the election of George W. Bush and the ensuing export of much of his work.

"When George Bush took the oath of office and they opened up China, it was like popping a balloon," Warnock said. "It was that fast."

Warnock has been self-employed since about 1990 and continues to accept tool and die work when he gets it but lately has shifted to a new craft. He started carving eggshells in 2005 and more recently picked it up again last December.

He uses a high-speed grinder to carve the shells and often works them into lace designs. He also makes pictures in relief by shaving off thin layers of the shells. On emu eggs this allows him to showcase up to five colors in different layers of a single shell. This particular craft came naturally to the 60-year-old Gilberts man. Though the shell is much more delicate than steel, the tools needed are old hat.

"A grinder is like an extension of my hand," Warnock said.

He is trying to grow his new business selling his own art, including pine needle baskets that have become a specialty of his in the last two years.

Warnock collects red pine needles from property he owns in Wisconsin and brings them home to soak and then coil and stitch into his creations.

The eggs Warnock carves in his basement where he has his tools, work bench and dust collector -- to save his lungs from the harmful remnants of the shells. But the pine needle baskets he makes in his living room, working off a TV tray on the couch.

Both crafts take incredible time and concentration. And creativity, something Warnock often harnesses from the natural objects he works with. When he sees shapes in the curves of an egg, he incorporates those into his designs. It's the same with woodworking, which he has also enjoyed over the years.

"If you're turning a piece of wood, you may find something inside of it that you didn't expect to be there and that may change your whole design because you don't want to cut it out," Warnock said. "It's kind of fun to plod along and be surprised."

In the end, Warnock could have put in hundreds of hours to get the final product. When he sells them, he asks for anywhere between $150 and $1,100 for some of the more complicated lace eggs. His baskets or turned bowls sell for between $150 and $350.

The struggle for Warnock now is how to find buyers. He won a Best of Show award during an Algonquin art festival in 2010 but didn't sell anything. This weekend he'll display his work in the Christmas on the Fox Art and Craft Show and hope for an audience interested in fine art and willing to pay for it.

He plans to have some of his eggshells, pine needle baskets as well as a few carved walking sticks for sale.

His inventory of artwork has been evolving ever since he was a child growing up in Itasca. His mother taught him needlepoint when he was just 5 years old. He said he went through a pastel phase in high school and later enjoyed chalk drawings. Miniature furniture occupied his 20s until raising kids interrupted much of his free time. In his 40s, Warnock started doing lathe work, preferring bigger bowls to anything else. For awhile he tried stained glass and bead making but didn't love either art.

Now with his four kids mostly independent, Warnock has more time to hone his latest crafts. He says the basket-making and egg-carving are his favorites.

"They're both challenging, they're both frustrating, and when you get finished they're both thrilling," he said.

In the long term Warnock knows he'll have to figure out the Internet and set up a website for himself but for now, interested buyers who can't make it to this weekend's show can be in touch via email at fosslake@aol.com.

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