DEERTON - Emerson Carey had a number of careers through his working life, but it's his retirement "hobby" that brings him great joy.
The word "hobby" is in quote marks because Carey's woodcarving has included works that adorned the White House Christmas tree. He's learned from some great teachers and now passes that woodcarving wisdom on to his own students.
And it all started after his retirement from the working world.
Emerson Carey poses in his Deerton home with a relief carving he did of an Native American. Carey, now 91, took up woodcarving about 25 years ago. (Journal photo by Renee Prusi)
Carey, now 91, was one of seven youngsters in his home growing up in downstate Eaton Rapids. Most of his youth was spent in Rochester, also in lower Michigan.
He was 4F during World War II but was rated 1A after the war years, which allowed him to join the U.S. Army as a counterintelligence agent. He was stationed in Japan at the start of the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union.
"We felt more threatened by the Russians than anything else," he said. "I remember sleeping with a gun under my pillow."
"I would say it takes me well over 100 hours to do one piece."
- Emerson Carey, wood carver
After returning to civilian life, Carey worked for a tool company in the sales and services, retiring at age 58. Then he took another job working with a friend on commercial displays until he retired again at 62.
Carey's son, Robert, had attended Northern Michigan University and one of his nephews had a business in the Upper Peninsula (Golden Eagle Supply) so Em had become familiar with the area.
"I absolutely loved it up here," Carey said. "I am not a hot weather person so this area was perfect for me."
With his own hands, Carey built a home near Sand River in Deerton.
"I started building this house, then came up on weekends to finish," he said.
His first wife had died of cancer many years ago and 27 years ago, Em married Betty, who also adored the U.P.
"We decided this was the best place for us," Carey said. "We love it here. We can see the winter storms coming through and the waves on the lake. It's beautiful."
It was about a quarter century ago that his "hobby" began.
"My sister's husband was a woodcarver in Texas," he said. "I got started carving when we stayed in Arizona. The club there was called the Easy Bleeders."
When he moved to Sand River full time, Carey started a club of his own called U.P. Chippers.
"I have taken classes from Krausman's in Gwinn and a lot of other famous carvers," he said. "I have been so fortunate to be able to do that."
The first thing Carey carved was a wolverine and he's been going strong ever since. His home has samples of the many kinds of items he carves, from animals to jewelry boxes to kaleidoscopes to angels.
"Eight of my angels were on a White House Christmas tree in 2002," he said. "There were 28 in total from our carving group, eight from me."
Those angels were then sold online to benefit Habitat for Humanity, with a friend bidding on one to return it to Carey.
The wood he carves most often comes from friends and neighbors. Most works are carvings from one piece of wood, including the cradle he made not too long ago for his great-grandson.
"I would say it takes me well over 100 hours to do one piece," Carey said. "This caribou, for instance, took 20 hours on the horns alone. It has between 40,000 and 50,000 hairline (strokes) on it."
But logs are not the only source of raw product: He has also carved birds out of golf club heads.
"It's relaxing to me," he said. "Probably because I've always loved wood. It has been a happy thing for me, to carve."
Carey starts with the face when he's carving an animal or a human likeness.
"The face is the most important part," he said. "If you don't get that right, then the rest won't look right."
Carey's glad he chose carving as something to do during his retirement years.
"I have been so lucky. I have met so many wonderful people through carving."
Renee Prusi can be contacted at 906-228-2500, ext. 253. Her e-mail address is email@example.com.