Life in our Foothills November 2023 – A Man of Many Faces – Karl Schwartz
Published 2:05 pm Thursday, November 16, 2023
Karl Schwartz moved to the Foothills area from Florida almost a decade ago. Since arriving, Schwartz, the son of a carpenter, has made an impact in the area by sharing his woodworking skills, and by teaching and sharing his work with the public. He’s been a regular Tryon Arts and Crafts School instructor and he built the ‘Bob the Giraffe’ statue at the Lanier Library.
However, Karl, who grew up in Connecticut, has a background that goes far beyond his skills with a bandsaw. He also served as a Marine and as a computer engineer for NASA.
“I learned computer programming as a Marine. General Westmoreland needed warm bodies,” said Schwartz. “I basically ended up in computer programming simply because I could read well enough and passed a simple test.”
After leaving the Marines, Karl says, “I went to college and was thinking of being an oceanographer when they recommended that with my computer background, I go into engineering.”
Karl put his skills to use working with an established truss-building company after college, where he used high-tech computers to determine the size that wooden trusses for various projects would need to be. He would then end up at NASA, where they needed “warm bodies” with a background in computer programming.
He was employed at NASA through the first fifty space shuttle launches, working with other computer programmers in the Apollo building at Cape Canaveral. “They had a copy of the Apollo lander in the building with three chairs in it, so we would often go sit in there at night.”
His background with computers led him from NASA to Three-Mile Island soon after the partial meltdown at the nuclear plant in Londonberry Township, Penn. “I worked there after the accident, changing everything from digital to analog. We put in an everchanging graph that would tell them the temperature or boron levels, making it easier for the reactors to monitor changes.”
Schwartz eventually moved on to South Florida Water Management, the oldest and largest of the state’s five water districts, using his computer skills to manage the water systems. But Karl, having been around woodworking most of his life, had never given up on his interest in creating things out of wood.
A trip to Washington to visit his sister, an artist, sparked his interest in wood carving once again.
Ceremonial masks carved by the indigenous people of the Pacific Northwest and Inuit tribes provided inspiration for Schwartz. He found the masks’ ability to invoke the spirit of animals to be enlightening. Karl has focused on carving masks and animal figures while developing his woodworking craft, and credits Bernard Edwards, another local TACS instructor, with helping him improve his skill set.
A lifelong learner, Schwartz continues to pursue education and guidance from other great woodworkers. He hopes to pass this love of woodworking on to others and some of the tricks and skills he has learned along the way by teaching at TACS.
Schwartz’s largest and most recent project was the construction of a new ‘Bob the Giraffe’ installation at the Lanier Library in Tryon. The previous structure had fallen into disrepair, and Schwartz generously agreed to build a new one. Schwartz handcrafted ‘Bob’ from plywood layers, and his design was based on a 14-inch high carving discovered by the late Harry Goodheart, the owner of Tryon Fine Books. The original carving was actually a vintage handmade toy created at Tryon Toymakers and Woodcarvers, founded in 1915 by Eleanor Vance and Charlotte Yale.
He has also recreated various classic toys for past Tryon Toymaker celebrations and is a regular at the Wood Carvers, Whittlers, and Wood Craftsman Festival held every October in Columbus.
Schwartz’s passion for wood carving extends beyond animal figures, however. He is truly an expert in creating wooden masks.
“Throughout history, different cultures have worn masks for reasons such as war and ceremony,” Schwartz said. “To me, masks are physical manifestations of things that don’t necessarily have forms, such as the wind, the forest and the sun.” Schwartz encourages his students to pick something they want to see represented in form, and they often pick something personally meaningful to them.
In addition to mask-making, Schwartz has taught classes on everything from making wooden spoons to pumpkin carving.
He recently hosted a fun evening of gourd carving and wine sipping. “Carving and teaching about wooden masks translates well to jack-o-lanterns,” Schwartz said. ‘Students had free rein to come up with their own facial features and create silly or scary faces to light up their front porch.”
Karl went on to explain the importance of having a facility like Tryon Arts and Crafts School in our area.
“Tryon Arts and Crafts School has fantastic tools and is wonderfully equipped,” Schwartz added. “They have equipment most folks like me don’t have access to at home. It’s an excellent place for continuing art education for kids and adults.”
Schwartz says that moving to the Foothills seems to have a positive effect on budding artists.
“I’m starting to think if you weren’t an artist when you moved to the area, you’ll become one once you arrive,” he said, highlighting the artistic spirit of the community.
Whether you’re a beginner or an experienced carver, Schwartz’s work and classes are sure to inspire your creativity and passion.