Woodcarver Loves Art of “Taking Away”

Photo Courtesy of Warren Soper

Warren Soper has been woodcarving since 1973. He was helping a friend who happened to be a woodcarver with a masonry construction project, and he told his friend, “Don’t pay me; just give me something you’ve carved.” Then he took lessons from his friend and started carving himself, and later worked for another Branson woodcarver, too. He started as a resident woodcarver in the shop at Silver Dollar City in 1976 and still carves there. He was there carving just a few weeks ago, still.

Warren loves working in wood because it’s an art of subtraction. 

He says, “I’ve done modeling with clay, and you can add to or take away from that, form it with your hands, but with a block of wood, you can only take away. You have to be able to see it in your mind before you start carving. Sometimes I’ll have a picture, and sometimes I’ll make a clay model for a big project to make sure I have dimensions right. Woodcarving is most challenging because you can only take away.”

Warren uses traditional woodcarving chisels.  His more serious pieces are usually carved in butternut wood and often reflect a western or historical theme such as eagles, busts, acanthus leaves, dragons, business signs, or special orders.  Butternut has the same grain pattern as black walnut but is lighter in color and slightly softer.  He uses cottonwood bark to carve Christmas ornaments, spirit faces, sleeping Santas, and whimsical fairy garden houses. 

In fact, when Missouri Life caught up with Warren, he was carving fairy garden houses and a big eagle, a commissioned piece that is a replica of the famous John H. Bellamy “Liberty and Union” carving at the Boston Museum of Fine Art, circa 1860–1880. “I love doing eagles,” he says.

You can meet Warren and see more of his artwork at Silver Dollar City or at the Historic Shaw Art Fair in the historic Shaw neighborhood of St. Louis on October 8–9.