Woodcarvings by Arne Bortnem

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Beyond early childhood activities with a pocket knife, such as every South Dakota farm boy carried in those days, a 4-H camp chip carving project inspired me at age twelve to find a book in the Madison Public Library and learn about carving and whittling. To answer the frequently asked question “How long have your been carving?”, I often say, “I carried a pocket knife in my diapers!”

A childhood fantasy of an underground dwelling built into a hillside east of Nunda, SD, never became a reality, but it remains the inspiration for “Hillhouse Originals”, the registered name for my wood carving business.

In the early 1970’s I went to work at Crazy Horse Monument in the Black Hills with the intention of learning from Korzack Ziolkowski how to be a sculptor. Inspiration was plentiful, but actual lessens were not available. However, I met a very talented woodcarver/engraver/musician/photographer named Kenny Anderson in near-by Custer. He taught me how to sharpen tools and counseled me in buying my first set of carving chisels.

In 1982 I joined the SD Woodcarvers Club in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, and broadened my skills and concept of the art though association with other carvers. Now I am hoping to expand my association through the phenomenal (and intimidating) World Wide Web.

Bison Head in Ash Wood

Trying to make a chunk of black walnut resemble the guy everyone has seen on a dollar bill was one of the most difficult and risky wood carving projects I've ever attempted. Mainly, I wanted to show what I think would be the facial expression of a resurrected George Washington viewing the current state of the union.