Shane Cloonan took his first woodcarving lesson only about eight months ago, but the 12-year-old Elgin boy already has established himself as one of the best young carvers in the nation.
Shane took third place in his age group and category in April at the Ward World Championships Wildfowl Carving Competition in Maryland, then followed that up with a first-place finish in June at the 47th International Woodcarvers Congress competition in Iowa.
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Shane CloonanAge: 12
School: St. Anne School in Barrington
Who inspires you? My grandpa Carl. I saw his carvings and I thought they were really neat.
What's on your iPod? Games. I don't listen to music on my iPod.
What book are you reading? "Meat Eater: Adventures from the Life of an American Hunter" by Steven Rinella
The three words that best describe you? Caring. Hunter. Creative.
In both events he competed with a bald eagle he carved out of tupelo wood.
While judges and his coach praise his work, when Shane examines his carvings all he sees are imperfections.
"I'm definitely a perfectionist," said Shane, a seventh-grader at St. Anne School in Barrington.
"You see here, the rock is too perfect," he says, pointing to the carved rock upon which the eagle perches. "It's too round. Rocks are not like this. There is also too much burnt umber. It should be a little bit whiter."
Shane expects much of himself, despite only starting carving at The Guge Institute of Wildlife Art in Gilberts in January, after his mother, Debbie Cloonan, got him the lessons as a Christmas present.
Instructor Josh Guge said Shane is among the best students he's ever taught in his age group. About 100 kids take lessons at the institute during the school year, he said.
"If you looked at (Shane's) carving, you'd be surprised that a kid made it. You'd think it was an adult," Guge said. "If he sticks with it, he's going to be really good when he's older."
Shane said he loves the process of slowly, meticulously creating something.
"The reason I like it so much is because I get to really see my project develop from a block of wood to a detailed piece of wood that really becomes more interesting," he said.
He also loves that it's all about nature.
"I get to learn about nature in the process and all the different animals," he said.
In Maryland, Shane competed in the decorative wildfowl division, which takes more skill than, say, carving a duck decoy, said Eric Turner, director of special events for the event's host, The Ward Museum of Wildfowl Art.
"It's a more refined carving style, a little more intricate," he said.
Shane, who has a work bench set up in his family's garage, said his favorite part about carving is the wood-burning.
He also makes it a point to say that his carvings are all his. He accepts no help from instructors or others on his pieces.
"Josh doesn't do anything on my carvings. It's all my work," he said. "That's how I like it. I like to learn, not have people do it for me."
Shane carries a knife with him whenever he roams his family's 11-acre property, looking for cool pieces of wood he can carve. He's been doing that for several years, which his mother admits occasionally raises eyebrows among her friends.
"He's always been very responsible with knives. He knows how to handle it," she said. "He's like a little Davy Crockett."
Shane just is a really outdoorsy kid, said his father, Mike Cloonan. The family has lots of animals, including four dogs, two donkeys, a horse, rabbits and chickens.
"He doesn't watch much TV. He's always doing something outside whenever he can," Mike Cloonan said.
Shane and his father love to go hunting together, and he recently spent a week camping and fishing in Alaska's Tongass National Forest.
He starting shooting pellets with a Daisy Red Rider around age 5 -- his dad had to hold the back of the BB rifle because it was too heavy -- and got his firearms owner identification card at age 9, his parents said.
"I love to hunt as much as I love to carve," Shane said, adding that his idol is Steven Rinella, the host of the TV show "MeatEater."
The family has a strict philosophy about hunting, which is never to be considered purely recreational, the Cloonans said. "When we shoot something, it will never go to waste. We eat it," Mike Cloonan said.
Shane spent the summer hard at work on a new carving of a smallmouth bass, which he might enter into future competitions based on the advice of his carving instructor.
"I'm almost getting ready to paint. I just have to finish up a couple of details," he said. Next, he might tackle carving an American Kestrel, also known as sparrow hawk, or an exotic fish with coral.
No matter how many other passions he has in life, he's sure that he will continue carving for a long time.
"I'm very patient with carving. Maybe not with other things in life, but in carving, yes," Shane said. "I could do it forever."
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