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Carving a masterpiece

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THE GIVING TREE:Gary Smith starts drawing on the stump the new outline of his gargoyle. Smith found a rotted piece of wood, making him have to carve out a different spot and start over.
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WHAT A HOOT:The owl carved on Washington Avenue has become a quick tourist attraction. The owl was finished last week and took Smith around three days to complete. He plans on adding more to the stump.

By Katharine Calabro - kcalabro@ftimes.com

A recent owl popped up on Washington Avenue, and it looks like it’s here to stay.

As the owl continues to adapt to its home, Lafayette resident and woodcarver Gary Smith continues to add charm to the street by carving out a gargoyle on local resident John Reid’s tree stump.

Smith was a chef for 20 years. He found woodcarving after realizing it wasn’t much different from ice sculpting, which he picked up during his time in the kitchen.

Smith said ice sculpting and woodcarving are similar because they use the same tools: chainsaws and chisels. He said the main difference between the two is the size.

“Woodcarving holds more challenges, because the mistakes don’t melt away,” Smith said.

The chef began ice sculpting years ago when he was working in a kitchen at a hotel while attending culinary school.

“The executive chef was really happy to find someone who was interested in actually learning,” Smith said.

Even though Smith already had some skill of sculpting, the artist continues to learn more via internet. He said everything is available and encourages others to break outside of their silos.

“People don’t look at their lives a journey or adventure, which is the only way I’ve ever looked at my life,” Smith said. “They look at everything as a destination.”

As owner of Pioneer Restoration, Reid is used to bringing historic buildings back to life. While the stumps are not historic, his property and house are. With his house originally built in 1870s, Reid has always been interested in show-stopper projects.

Keeping this in mind, Reid asked Smith to carve four stumps on his property with different images. He said this project is an undertaking for Smith, since it’s something he’s never done before.

“He’s done ice but has never carved wood,” Reid said. “He’s definitely good at what he does.”

He said the owl has become an attraction, bringing in around 50 people to his property daily to talk with Smith or take pictures.

“It’s cool to be able to take something that’s nothing and turn it into something people are fascinated with,” Reid said.

The owl was a simple four-day project for Smith, but the gargoyle hasn’t been as easy. The artist had to start over a couple of times due to rotting wood. Because of the issue, Smith continues to recreate the art piece showing a different look.

“I rough sketch it out, and as long as I don’t take away a lot, it will begin to form itself,” he said.

Since beginning at Reid’s location, Smith has already had people approach him with business inquires. The artist is very interested in continuing to wood carve, but also offers other artistic home options, such as epoxying floors and countertops.

Even though the artist continues to learn as he goes, he is confident in his abilities to always pull off a work of art.

“It might take a little bit longer but it will always look good,” Smith said. “My goal is to learn more art and experience it.”