Whittling the day away

There are vikings and trolls everywhere at the Norsk Hstfest, but the cutest ones may be in a corner of Stockholm Hall at the All Seasons Arena on the North Dakota State Fairgrounds.

Chris Matson, from Blackfoot, Idaho, can be found spending his days at the Scandinavian festival whittling vikings and trolls out of wood, while his wife, Judy, is nearby painting them. Some of the carvings are made of basswood, Chris Matson said, and some are made of balsa. Every year he receives the wood scraps from the blade runners of Santa’s sleighs because they’re changed each year, Matson joked.

On Wednesday afternoon, Matson was whittling an almost completed viking wearing a pair of pajamas and for amusement, the seat of the pajamas was a trap door that was half-open, revealing the wooden viking’s best side.

Matson started carving when he was 10 years old and in Cub Scouts, where he carved soap and enjoyed it so much that he hasn’t stopped. His mother saved the first soap carving he ever made, which was a simple dog from homemade lye soap, he said. Then he obtained a pocket knife and carved anything that could be carved, except for his brothers who didn’t appreciate being carved.

There is no specific process Matson goes through when carving a viking out of wood. “I just cut away everything that isn’t a viking and then I’m left with a viking,” he said with a smile. Matson said he starts with a block of wood, whittles away and then lets his wife paint the finished carving.

Depending on each individual carving, it takes either a short time to finish or a few days, Matson said. There are also about seven steps in the painting process, he added, so the carvings can be time consuming.

Carving pieces of wood is therapeutic, Matson said. “Whittling relaxes me, it’s very calming and gets your mind on more of a focus,” he added. “If you don’t focus on this, you’ll bleed.”

Having found out about the Norsk Hstfest from the Internet, this is the first year Matson and his wife are exhibitors at the Norsk Hostfest. “We love it,” he said, nodding to his wife nearby. “I believe we’ll be back next year, too.”

“My grandparents immigrated from Norway in 1910, so being here with all these Scandihoovians is like being at a family picnic,” Matson said.