For many people who begin losing their vision as adults, it can be tough to stick with lifelong hobbies usually done by sight. And finding new pastimes can be equally challenging.
However, with some adaptation and problem-solving, it’s possible to continue enjoying many activities by taking a more tactile approach. Chuck Fehl and Don McCall will tell you that woodcarving is a great example of a hobby that folks experiencing vision loss can continue to enjoy. All it takes is a lot of light, a lot of patience and a lot of “feel.”
Chuck, a member of the Council’s Board of Directors, was diagnosed in his 60s with macular degeneration. Decades earlier, he’d carved a few things: dogs, an owl, some fish. As often happens with hobbies, carving fell by the wayside as he focused increasingly on his career as a business manager. When his vision began to decline, he joined the local senior center and found that they offered a woodcarving club. That was his gateway back into his old hobby.
After returning to carving, Chuck knew he was rusty. “I created a lot of firewood initially,” he jokes. Chuck uses gouges, a Dremel power tool and his sense of touch to create pieces that are delicate and tactile. “I wanted to feel the wood and feel what I had accomplished,” he says.
“I am just very patient and go very slowly,” Chuck explains. “Now I’m a better carver than I was before. I can’t make the same type of things, but what I’m doing gives me a lot more satisfaction.”
Don was a carpenter, construction manager and avid wood carver who even taught the craft of carving at local colleges until a 2006 stroke left him mostly blind and affected the use of his left arm.
Like Chuck, Don says there were adjustments to make. “I never really stopped carving, but was mostly practicing,” Don says. “A year or two after I lost my sight, I started to come around.”
“I had to be very patient with myself,” he adds. “A couple times a night, I would get frustrated with carving. But I’d say ‘No, you gotta keep doing it.’”
Thanks to that persistence, his skills are improving steadily. “I think since I’ve been blind, I spend more time working on projects, and my projects are a lot better-looking. I go for perfection, not time.”
“I do it a lot slower, and safety is a real concern for me,” Don says. “I use carving gloves, thumb guards and safety glasses.”
Over the years, Don has carved thousands of birds, a few dozen Bucky Badgers and Santas, a groundhog, several eagles, and a handful of caricatures. One of them is a fisherman with a hook lodged in his rear end. “He’s kind of looking back to see what’s going on there,” he says, laughing.
Don works in a full-size heated shop, while Chuck works in his apartment’s laundry room. Both men rely on extra light and various magnifiers to allow them to use their remaining functional vision to see their projects as well as possible. Neither man sells his work, but they often give it away to grateful recipients, some as far away as Europe.
Both Chuck and Don feel that their woodcarving passions have made their lives more satisfying. And Don has some advice for others with vision loss interested in taking up this or any other creative hobby.
“Whatever you complete, you should be proud of,” Don says. “You’re doing the best you can at that time, and usually the first project doesn’t go as well as the second, third or fourth.”
And above all: “Don’t give up. Keep trying.”