AuSABLE Twp. – Greg Wilkinson has become a familiar face at multiple community events throughout Iosco County.
While he can often be spotted showcasing his one-of-a-kind wood carvings, he takes this a step further by promoting what he has called a dwindling art.
Owner of Spirit Line Creations Wood Carving Studio Gallery in AuSable Township, Wilkinson produces by hand everything from folk art to fine art. This includes canes and walking sticks, figurines, totem poles, flutes, jewelry and more.
“It’s a dying art, really,” he said of wood carving, noting that he went to a show in Lansing recently which typically boasts about 50 different tables of carvers. “There were 15 tables.”
According to Wilkinson, younger generations simply aren’t as involved in this medium anymore, and he believes a lot of it has to do with art and music programs being scaled back in many schools.
He is determined, though, to keep this tradition alive. And the fact that there has been a decline in wood carvers is the very thing which sets his business apart from others in the area.
Wilkinson made the move from downtown Hamburg to AuSable Township about a decade ago, and officially set up his business five years later.
He shared that he loves the slower paced lifestyle, as well as the natural beauty, adding that he has drawn inspiration for some of his art from the lakes and rivers in the area.
“I used to do street art fairs, selling my canes and walking sticks,” he said, noting that Spirit Line has been his first venture into the studio business.
What sealed the deal for Wilkinson to set up shop in AuSable was the property he purchased. The buildings had been abandoned, the land was for sale, and he said it looked like it had great potential.
“It’s taken a lot of work, but it’s really turned out to be good,” he remarked of the property, which is where he resides, works on his art and maintains his studio gallery.
“That’s what was so appealing – a 950-square-foot house and a 4,000-square-foot building,” he said with a laugh.
In regards to the previous use, Wilkinson said the building originally operated as a Honda dealership, then had been utilized as a repair shop, a body shop and a cleaning service.
As for how he settled on the name for his business, he shared that he learned about spirit lines from a Navajo artist while in New Mexico.
“Navajo weavers have a spirit line in their work,” Wilkinson described, saying it is an imperfection of sorts.
“So, whenever you see an original Navajo weaving, it has a break in the weave somewhere. That’s the last thing they do is break the weave,” he explained.
According to Wilkinson, when the artist completes his or her work, they break the weave so that any of the creativity, spirituality or energy which was involved in the process is allowed to go with them to the next endeavor.
“It runs in the family,” he said, of how he got his start with wood carving.
Wilkinson said he has been working in this medium for about 30 years, with the tradition having been passed down from his great-grandfather.
He shared that he went to junior college and took some art classes, including lessons on graphic arts, but with his job, family and children to focus on, he found that it was easier to stick to wood carving.
According to Wilkinson, what he enjoys most about his craft is the relaxation it provides, in addition to serving as a creative outlet.
“I just have a creative streak, so that’s what I enjoy the most – designing some things or coming up with different ideas,” he said.
While he has produced an assortment of pieces, ranging from all shapes, colors and sizes, he noted that he has recently been creating more human realistic items.
With the variety of pieces he makes, Wilkinson also requires a variety of carving tools – primarily knives and gouges – which come in a multitude of lengths and styles for creating different sizes of art.
His gallery features several of his handcrafted pieces, but Wilkinson also collects items from other artists which he has displayed in his studio.
“So I’m always on the lookout,” he said of new and interesting creations from fellow artists.
For those who enjoy attending the numerous events offered in Iosco County and surrounding areas throughout the year, it would not be a shock if they happened to have crossed paths with Wilkinson at one point or another.
In addition to being a member of the Oscoda-AuSable Chamber of Commerce, he has participated in such community events as Showcase Iosco in Tawas City; the grand opening of the Huron Shores Artisan Hall in Oscoda Township; Art Stroll of Tawas Bay; the Alpena Community College car show/open house; the Ogemaw County Fair; and Paul Bunyan Days, which he has been a part of for the last four years, and where he also helped bring back the chain saw carving event.
He said this aspect of the annual festival in Oscoda hadn’t been featured for a quite a number of years. “And so I took the information and made some phone calls, and it’s been a huge success.”
Wilkinson said he has picked up some tips from the professionals at Paul Bunyan Days, and even tried his hand at a chain saw carving for the first time last year, creating a large bear piece.
His summer schedule is already starting to fill out, as he intends to participate in such activities as Art on the Beach in Oscoda, as well as the Labor Day Arts & Crafts Show in Tawas City.
He has also been commissioned to create two totem poles, which will be mounted on wooden turtles, for a local resident.
“And then I’m also doing a walking stick class at Sunrise Side Lifelong Learning, the four Wednesdays in June,” he added of his upcoming plans.
“And last summer was the first time I had students. So I do teach wood carving, too,” Wilkinson said.
Perhaps his most noteworthy involvement, though, has been his work with the Michigan Woodcarvers Association’s Lean on Me project, which provides hand-carved wood canes to military Veterans.
“We had our state meeting two weeks ago and the program has given away 4,900 canes to disabled Veterans in the state of Michigan,” according to Wilkinson. “The majority are combat Veterans.”
Spirit Line Creations Wood Carving Studio Gallery is located at 2533 N. US-23, and Wilkinson may be reached for further information by calling 305-6780.