Woodcarver built up fan base over years

Woodcarver built up

fan base over years

Ray Scherer

Clement "Clem" Wilding still has a number of devotees who can remember the special craftsmanship he used to turn pieces of driftwood into marvels of nature.

Hermann businessman John Wilding, Wilding's son, still recalls the wonders his father created during a multi-faceted woodcarving career.

At midlife, the elder Wilding contracted malaria from a mosquito bite in the Berger bottoms. That incident led to some major changes, and meant farming was no longer to be part of his daily routine. All it took was whittling with a pocketknife, which he would never put down again.

"He started carving at age 40," John said of the switchover in regular habits. It had also become customary for Wilding to become a painter of woodland backgrounds. Framing also became a staple.

Wilding would take to placing carved birds in a frame, and his works became so popular that he began selling the creations. Frames with representations of birds would typically take him two or three weeks to complete. John said the artistic tendencies gradually rubbed off on he and his wife, Mae. 

Wood wasn't the only medium Clem Wilding would use. He also employed metal for sculptures and furniture such as infant high chairs. He would often make the items for family.

His son remembers how his father would rely on non-power tools for his projects, maybe only depending on a lathe for some of the work and hand sewing with the objects.

How did Clem Wilding's love for such a pastime surface? In those early days, carving was done for purposes of entertainment. But the joy goes much deeper.

"He and I both attended the same school, which was a log building," said John. He said his father's teacher noticed a special talent for drawing. "He was proud to tell that story....To him, art was very important."

John has held on to many of the creations, and proudly showcases them on request.

"These are all pieces of driftwood out of the (Missouri) river," he said about a particular collection. One piece of driftwood depicts an American kestrel.

"He made every bird you could think of," John said of the versatility, noting the influence of John James Audubon on his father. "He loved nature in any form."

It's estimated that Wilding carved thousands of birds, which are no longer on the market. The customer base extended out as far as England and Australia. There were exhibits galore in Hermann and later on sales of the items from the comfort of home, and pocketknives were constant gifts in the family -- presented in the wholesome guise of recreating that love for carving. He also made a fiddle from cornstalks and and also crafted a depiction of a windmill. And he also liked to carve faces on wood.