Sometimes good things can happen with a knife.
Properly handled, of course.
That's what 13-year-old Jamie Miller discovered when he passed over clay and plaster in his art class and picked up woodworking tools.
Jamie, an eighth-grader at Spirit Creek Middle School, won the "Best of Show" award for art exhibits at the Exchange Club Fair earlier this month. His entry was the first piece of woodworking he had ever done, a plaque of a medieval dragon he created for art class.
"I like the medieval stuff - dragons and knights," he said, standing in the art classroom at Spirit Creek. "I'll look in books, and some of the ideas will come from there."
Art teacher Henry Drakeford, himself a woodworker, is more used to seeing students make simple plaques with their names. Jamie's intricate choice of subject was surprising, but he relished the opportunity to pass on the techniques he loves.
Although the honor student has fulfilled his art requirement, he's still carving with Mr. Drakeford's help, and the teacher has told his student to come to him for help even after Jamie moves on to Hephzibah High School next year.
"At first, he was really hesitant about digging into the wood," Mr. Drakeford said. "He was cautious, afraid of making a mistake."
"I like doing something hard for me to do, and making it look right," Jamie said.
That attention to detail and quest for perfection adds to his intensity when he works, but it can hobble him as well. Sometimes, Mr. Drakeford would find him sitting silently in class, staring at the block of wood as he tried to figure out what cuts to make next.
"I don't know what to do," he would tell his teacher.
Mr. Drakeford encouraged him to work on small bits of the carving: the details of the dragon's claws, the rounded, cobbled stone of the background. He had to be convinced that he couldn't make a mistake, that any inadvertent cuts could be worked around and into the overall design, the teacher said.
At other times that intensity would carry him through class engrossed in his work as the scene came to life under his hands. When the class period was over, he would be reluctant to lay down the woodworking tools - a sharp blade and a duller, rounded tool for gouging, brought to the classroom by parents and only allowed in use under adult supervision.
He didn't have a chance to finish his second piece before the 12-week art class was finished, so he's working on it outside of school: digging into the plank of wood, releasing the fresh scent of pine and the image of a mounted knight, gradually growing more distinct. The woodworking is something he wants to keep up, not only as a hobby but also potentially for profit. He has already had a small taste of that, with the $25 he won from the fair competition.
But he's not yet blase enough about his work to be willing to sell off any of it.
"I want to take it home," he said, hefting his stained and painted carving with its blue ribbons aflutter. "I want to put it on my bedroom wall."
Reach Alisa DeMao at (706) 823-3223 or firstname.lastname@example.org.