How I came to carve whales:
I first heard of Wick Ahrens after my siblings and I bought a shop in Duck North Carolina with its inventory, which included several of Wicks plaques. I remember immediately being drawn to them, their style and finish. We soon realized it was Wick’s ‘Whales in Vermont’ sign we passed as kids on our frequent snowboard trips to Ludlow VT. We developed a phone relationship as we continued to sell his whales, but never met in person. After 3 years I left North Carolina for New Jersey, to mentor under my father Lance, himself a bird carver for nearly 40 years. After 5 years of apprenticeship with my Dad, I moved on to familiar Vermont to set up my own shop, and continue my family’s woodcarving tradition. I was a mere 15 minutes from Wicks gallery in Weston. Learning I was a woodcarver, people would always ask if I knew Wick, the whale carver in Weston. I would explain our small connection, but never stopped to meet him, until the day I did. We talked as if we had known each other forever. We talked shop, tools, wood, paints, galleries, nature, politics, human nature and dogs Wick’s work and space inspired me. Wick inspired me. Wick shared with me how it was he had come to carve whales.
Wick was mentored by Clark Voorhees of Old Lyme CT and Weston VT. Clark was the son of Clark Greenwood Voorhees, an American Impressionist and tonal landscape painter and one of the founders of the Old Lyme Art Colony. Clark inherited his father’s artistic talent and became a well-known carver of whales and birds. Wick admired Clark’s freedom to go into his shop, create anything he wanted and make a living doing that, a feeling I related to. Clark invited him into his shop and showed Wick the finer points of carving. Clark quickly became a great friend and second father to Wick. Years later while studying Art at the San Francisco Art Institute, Wick realized sculpture was his calling. Remembering his Vermont mentor, he made some minor attempts copying Clark’s whales, then went a step further and started sculpting more realistic whales finished in acrylic. Travels throughout California and Hawaii allowed Wick to actually swim alongside these great leviathans. His respect for these beings, his understanding of the movement of whales and his natural skill led Wick to creating magnificent sculptures along with his plaque series. While on a return trip to Vermont, Clark gave Wick his blessing to continue carving in his tradition.
After successful years in CA, including creating the world’s largest whale sculpture, “Gray Whale and Calf” now on display at the Seymour Marine Discovery Center in Santa Cruz, Wick moved back to Peru Vermont and continued to grow his business. A tragic, yet “freeing” fire destroyed his shop and inventory, but with love support and determination he was able to rebuild in Weston VT. His historic home and gallery at the end of a dirt road became his sanctuary and an unforgettable attraction for visitors. If you were lucky enough to have visited Wick, you were greeted by his beloved Australian Shepherds, and awed by the gallery he built in his living room.
In 2012 Wicks health began to suffer beyond the point he could comfortably keep up with his orders. He asked “the only person he could think of” to help him in his shop and fill his orders, me. Having been carving birds for 13 years, Wick appreciated my knowledge of wood and tools and my readiness to step up and help. I started carving with him 2- 3 days a week. Wick became my “northern Dad” and I became “the daughter he never had.” We worked together for 2 years, and he absolutely changed my life. I feel so blessed to have been able to spend shop time with him and learn from a master.
In 2014, when Wick’s health forced him to retire to the Gill Home in Ludlow VT he asked me if I would be interested in taking over his business and continue carving whales. It didn’t take me long to answer. I was honored. I adopted his dog, bought his business, and continue in his tradition. I work on the bench Clark passed on to Wick and it inspires me to grow without forgetting where I came from. I am humbled to be a part of such a rich carving history.
Sadly, Wick left us on March 11, 2016. There is a piece of him in everything I make, and I treasure every second I spent with him. We love you Wickie!
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