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ERHS Art teacher gives logs new life

Bess Coy sits on the lap of bear that is part of one of the woodcarvings she made with a chain saw and chisels. She plans to donate the work, which sits in a corner of her East Ridge High School classroom, to a library so people can sit on it and read to children. Staff photo by Judy Spooner

The students in Bess Coy's art classes at East Ridge High School might not know that she owns a Kevlar vest, heavy gloves, sound-blocking earphones and enjoys being covered in sawdust.

When she is not teaching art, she is a wood carver, at home with a chainsaw and chisels.

One of her projects graces her classroom. A carving of a large bear serves as a chair and an American eagle hovers over it.

Coy hopes to give it to a library one day, and she envisions librarians sitting on it and reading stories to children.

Three years ago, Coy gave herself a present for her 40th birthday. Staying with a friend in Lanesboro, Minn., she took a weekend woodcarving class in nearby Harmony.

Sweaty and covered with sawdust, she found she loved carving.

The seed for her interest in the art was planted when she was a youngster growing up in northern Wisconsin, Coy said, when she attended logging shows with her father.

As her carving improved, she didn't want to take money for carvings she did for others. "I didn't want it to be a job," she said.

She does carvings for nonprofit organizations around Hastings where she lives. They sell the work to raise money.

Coy also makes gifts for friends and family members.

Those who take down trees in the city know about her carving and bring her wood. "I don't want to take down a living tree just to have wood to carve," she said.

But she carves a piece from the gift and gives it to the owner.

"It's a memory piece," she said. "They should have part of it. Trees have been around a long time. What did they see?"

Coy had surgery two years ago to remove a benign brain tumor.

She made a full recovery but it was a long process. Carving helped her. Carving and imagining how an object would look were "great brain exercises," she said. It also gave her a peaceful and calm feeling.

When she carves in her yard, she can look up and see eagles circling. "When the eagles are around, it's a good day to carve," she said. "It's almost like they are checking it out."

Her husband, Michael, has also taken an interest in carving.

"Our idea of spending time together is carving under a canopy in our back yard and communicating by using hand signals," she said.

Coy, who formerly taught at Cottage Grove Junior High School, said she loves teaching, but also enjoys what working with wood brings to her life.

"So much of my life is structured," she said. "Carving is total chaos."

Judy Spooner
Judy Spooner is the longest-serving staff writer at the South Washington County Bulletin. Spooner, who covers education and features in addition to writing a weekly column, has been with the newspaper for over 30 years.
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