Jackie Stevens loves dolls.
But most of all, she loves wood.
From her love for wood, Stevens has become a creator of many things, but one of her fondest things to do with the wood she finds worthy of becoming “something else,” is create her tiny just a little over 6-inch doll characters.
She has sliced and chipped her way through plenty of pieces of wood, enough now to total 42 creations of character, whimsy and persona.
Her collection, which contains most of the dolls she’s carved, is on exhibit for all to enjoy at Talladega’s Heritage Hall Museum this month.
Museum hours are Tuesday through Friday from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m. and there’s a reception planned for Stevens at the museum Sunday, July 17, from 2 p.m. until 3:30 p.m.
Stevens was struck with the passion for carving in 2006, and within the craft and creativity, has found the answer for a personal stress reliever, she said.
The Pell City native grew up in the middle of the city’s “mill village” in the 1950s, and now lives in the Cook Springs area with her husband, Tom.
She spent most of her working years in the IRA administration department of the bank that was originally called St Clair Federal Savings and Loan.
“Through many acquisitions and buyouts, I remained with the company for 23 years,” she said.
“Stress became an everyday problem that soon began to affect my health, and I began searching for an outlet to relieve some of this stress. This was when I found the world of carving. I finally talked with Marvin (Smith) and found that the club, the Logan Martin Woodcarvers, was then meeting at Lincoln High School.”
It was Smith who piqued her interest in carving with the beautiful carved canes he would bring into the bank with him, she said.
The rest, as they say, is history, Stevens recalls.
“I went to a meeting and became hooked,” she said. “It was sometime in 2006 when I began carving and I still remain a member. We meet every third Saturday at the old recreation center in Pell City. I have missed very few of our meetings.”
Stevens said she has had many hobbies in her life in addition to carving, and many of them connect quite well with her carving pursuits.
“I enjoy quilting, making everything from scratch and by hand from start to finish,” she said. “My very first quilt was made from fabric bought at the little fabric shop in the mill village that was run by Sarah Sanders. Although she was blind, she had a unique way of measuring and cutting fabric.”
Stevens started out with carving by making canes.
“Marvin influenced and mentored me with his vast knowledge of stick making,” she said. “I loved to harvest my own sticks while scrounging around in the woods. Then I learned that you need to allow the sticks to season for about a year. If carved green, most cane wood would either split or twist as it dried. Marvin generously gave me starter sticks as I continued to gather wood of my own.”
Stevens said every aspect of carving appeals to her.
“To me, the entire process from harvesting the wood to applying the final finish is rewarding,” she said.” Most of my canes, though serviceable, are decorative collectible canes. I have sold a few across the years, but most of them remain in my collection. I have carved a variety of items for cane handles including birds, dogs, snakes, lizards, eagle heads, faces, and flowers. I have also made a few with glass door knobs, old horse collars, and even an old sprinkler head from Avondale Mills.”
Also among Stevens’ creations are an American style 1900s school desk, made from wood salvaged from the mill.
“When I first began attending the carving meetings, I was the only female among a bunch of men,” Stevens recalls. “They had a lot of experience among them and were generous in sharing their knowledge. Even today, everybody shares everything from wood, sandpaper, to good food, fun, and a lot of laughter. Now, most of the members bring their spouses.”
Some will carve, while others bring along their own crafting or sewing.
“We all do something, and the fellowship is priceless,” Stevens said.
Her carving started as she sat on the couch in front of the television with wood, knives, and sandpaper in her lap.
“After a while, the dust and clutter forced me to the basement,” she said. “There I had one small two foot fluorescent light fixture and an old metal desk for my work space. The dust was terrible and soon became an issue. I shared the basement with Tom, and he decided to build me my own space. I now carve in my own ‘wood shed’ he built for me.”
Stevens has her very own 24 foot by 30 foot space, and some of the building materials are recycled from her old family homestead.
She has 30 feet of counter space made from the old original pine hardwood flooring in the old homestead.
“My walls and shelves are covered with childhood memorabilia and just stuff,” she said. “I have a treasure trove of old tools mounted on old weathered grey barn boards. The tools belonged to my granddaddies, my daddy, Tom’s daddy, and Tom. I even have a pair of scissors that originally belonged to a grandmother and was handed down through the generations that now rests on my walls.”
The shop has become her haven for creating and finding a special place for herself.
“My shop is the only place that I can completely loose myself with no worries or fears and lose all track of time,” she said. “There I can do what I love the most-carving.”
Getting into the dolls has just evolved for Stevens.
“My mind has drifted away to small wooden jointed doll making, I have become passionate about making wooden dolls,” she said. “Although I have made a variety of sizes. the traditional doll is only 6 and-a quarter-inches tall and is fully jointed. I cut my own blanks with my band saw, then carve, paint where needed, and then dress these little beauties.”
The origin of these dolls is from a book,” Hitty Her First One Hundred Years” by Rachel Field and illustrated by her friend, Dorothy P. Lanthrop. It was first published in 1929 and is written in the first person as if the doll Hitty is telling about the owners and adventures she has experienced for the first 100 years of her life.
“It is an enjoyable read and has influenced the making of many of my dolls,” Stevens said. “I made my first wooden doll in November 2011, and since that date, I have made 66 dolls ranging from one and three-fourths inches to 10 inches.”
Stevens postures many of the dolls upon panoramas, and some just stand alone.
“I have given away many of my dolls to friends and famil,y but most of them remain living with me,” she said.
“Although I have gained a lot of carving knowledge from friends, books, magazines, and the internet, I still profess to be a self- taught carver,” she said.
“Many carving artists far surpass me in technique, style and beauty with their work, but few can obtain the love and satisfaction I can achieve when I take a plain block of wood and give it life. The wood has to talk to me before I can hear it, but once that happens, my imagination runs free to create whatever my heart desires.”
Her best piece of advice came from another carver, of course.
“I was once told by a dear carving buddy, that you need to do a little carving every day, even if it is only for a minute,” she said.
“Experience gains skill. I do try to carve every day, even if for just for a minute, but, that moment usually fades into hours. My carving gives me great joy and relaxation, but best of all, it has given me the blessing of a whole bunch of new and cherished friends. I have no plans of ever stopping this gratifying hobby.”