FAIRBANKS, Alaska — Marianne Stolz doesn’t have much time for wood carving given the demands of homeschooling her 12- and 14-year-old kids.
As fortune would have it, her kids and husband were on a three-week vacation in April when the National Park Service called and asked whether she would do a commission for the new entrance sign at Denali National Park and Preserve. The 54-year-old Stolz jumped at the offer, and now the new sign features a 3-by-3 foot relief carving of a caribou, courtesy Stolz.
Based on a drawing by prolific Alaska artist Bill Berry, the striding caribou carved from yellow cedar occupies the lower left portion of the sign, next to an outline of Denali.
“I love relief carving because it’s in between a drawing and sculpture. You actually have to change what’s real, you have to make a fat caribou fit into a two-inch piece of wood,” Stolz said.
Stolz’s history as a wood carver dates back to her hometown of Freiburg, in Germany’s Black Forest. She attended a folk school throughout her youth which engaged her in arts, crafts, music and working with her hands. But it wasn’t until after high school and a year of travel she decided to enter a three-year apprenticeship working with wood.
It took a few more years for Stolz to find her future home of Fairbanks. After traveling around northern Europe with her husband, Ralf Holland-Letz, the pair decided to explore north America on a cross-country bicycle trip.
“We biked from Idaho to the north, and we hit Fairbanks and we hardly left,” she recalled.
While in Fairbanks, mutual friends introduced her to another woodworker, John Manthei, and after years of collaborating, they got the ball rolling on The Folk School Fairbanks.
“I gave him the idea. John definitely did most of the work, but I’ve been involved since the beginning,” Stolz said.
Stolz continues her involvement with the The Folk School by teaching classes. This summer, she’s been part of two kids summer camps — Week in the Woods and Rhythm and Roots.
When Stolz does have time for personal carvings, she likes to make useful, not just beautiful, items.
“I’m a very functional kind of person. If I do it for myself, I’m carving a coat hook because I need one. I’m whittling a spoon because I forgot one on my camping trip,” she said.
Other work from Stolz includes multiple pieces at Tri-Valley School in Healy, Noel Wein Library and Tonglen Lake Lodge.
And while Stolz’s caribou relief isn’t her most elaborate, intricate or grandiose carving, it won’t take long before it’s her most viewed.
“This is a sign where everyone drives by, and everyone’s gonna see it. And so many people stop there and take pictures, that’s pretty cool to think that there’s gonna be a million pictures with my caribou on it. Even though that’s not the main purpose.”
Information from: Fairbanks (Alaska) Daily News-Miner, http://www.newsminer.com