Eckert resident Charles A. Holder, Jr. (“Junior” to his friends and neighbors who have lived in the area for more than just a few years) was born in Georgetown in 1933. His family moved to Eckert in 1939. He attended Cedaredge High School, and spent four years in the U.S. Navy before returning to Eckert.
His father (Charles A. Holder, Sr.), had opened the Eckert Garage in 1938. After returning from the Navy, Junior went to work for his father for three years learning the auto mechanic trade. He then went to work for Doughty Steel and Machine in Delta, as a machinist apprentice. He met his wife-to-be — Kay — while working in Delta. The two were married in 1955, and in 1960 Junior bought the garage (now Eckert Motors) from his father. They have two children — a son, Jerry, and a daughter, Deborah Shaw.
In 1999, Junior sold the garage and retired. For the past nine years, when he had nothing else to do, he sat around with a block of wood and pocket knife and whittled. “Just waiting for Kay to retire,” he laughed.
His ﬁrst creation was a whimsical hound dog, whittled from a spruce 2x4, using a pocket knife. He still has it. “It goes everywhere I go,” he said.
One day he saw a wood carving that was, according to Junior, “So simple that I knew I could do that.” And so it began.
With a block of wood, a pocket knife, and a band saw, Junior began to carve. The terms “whittling” and “carving” are often used interchangeably, but they are different forms of art. Carving includes the use of chisels, gouges, and a mallet, while whittling involves only the use of a knife. An avid outdoorsman, Junior continued to whittle to “pass the time away while I was hunting or ﬁshing or if I was unable to do anything outdoors.”
Junior ﬁnds inspiration everywhere he goes. “They just happen,” he said. “I see something in real life, a picture in a magazine or something, and I say to myself, ‘I can do that.’ ” His many subjects include humming birds, a whimsical Nativity set, delicately carved roses, human ﬁgurines, a wine bottle, horses, bears, mountain lions, dogs, a lady’s boot, a mobile and a curio cabinet ﬁlled with many other delicate carvings.
“Sometimes, I have to use clay to get the right proportions before I start carving,” he explained, “That takes a lot of time.” One of his pieces, “Sounds of Autumn” depicting two elk in combat, took over a year to ﬁnish. “It started out as a winter project,” he recalled, “but it took every night for a year to ﬁnish.”
“Nothing turns out like it’s planned,” he laughed, “Sometimes I get stumped, so I throw it on the shelf for six months or a year and then come back to it. It seems to work out okay that way.
“But I have a lot of sculptures that didn’t turn out the way I thought they should.”
Two years ago he decided to get serious about wood carving. He took two lessons from a local woodcarver, Desiree Hajney. “One of the top woodcarvers of animals in the world,” notes Junior. He also began reading a lot of books on the subject.
“I like working with the hardwoods,” said Junior. He eventually bought a full set of wood carving tools, and began using basswood (considered to be one of the world’s foremost carving woods for centuries because it cuts easily across and with the grain and can be shaped to remarkably ﬁne detail), black locust (one of the hardest woods grown in North America), and various other hardwoods for his sculptures.
He also began using acrylics and Kay’s tole paints to add some color to his sculptures. Over the years, Kay has become his best critic. “She can just look at whatever I am working on and pick out the bad spots,” explained Junior.
At this year’s Edge of the Cedars Art Show, Junior was awarded the first place blue ribbon for a wood sculpture of three dolphins that he called “Surﬁng,” which was also awarded ESA’s Best of Advanced.
Over the years Junior has given many of his carvings away, but now with a house ﬁlled with his carvings and a blue ribbon to his credit, Junior is no longer considered an “amateur” and some of his sculptures are actually for sale. In fact he sold his award winning “Surﬁng” at the Edge of the Cedars Art Show.
He never thought for a moment that he would ever want to sell any of his work, but “Desiree said there will come a time…,” he grinned.
Larger projects include a grandfather clock that “started out as a curio cabinet,” an actual curio cabinet, and a decorative handrail “for when we get old,” he said.