A Lion and Friends Take Shape with American Woodcarving

Meet Mike Holst, owner of American Woodcarving in Wayne, NJ. Mike has been a signmaker and carver since 1988, and completed this magnificent hand-carved lion for the zoo, among other hand-carved animals currently on display at the recently-renovated entrance.

The roots of the Turtle Back Zoo project lie with Mike’s long-standing relationship with Architect Greg Comito, the principal at Comito Associates. After designing and building a hand-carved turtle for the zoo that exceeded their expectations, Mike and Greg partnered up again when it was time for a full renovation of the entrance. Mike was commissioned to hand-carve practically a zoo full of animals – a lion, giraffe, several flamingoes, and a waddle of penguins.

Taking 2” thick sheets of 15lb CORAFOAM® and transforming them into the king of the jungle is no easy task, and Mike started the process with an oversize piece of HDU for his sculpture and cutting out the profile on a CNC Router. Additional layers were glued together to build up thickness (8’’ at the tip of the nose), then rough contouring was done with a chainsaw. Sculpting is done with traditional wood-carving tools, mallet and chisels. Mike prefers to rough sand and then prime the entire piece before beginning the final detail work in order to identify highs and lows in the carving. Done in this manner, flaws become apparent and can be addressed early in the process. Final detailing is done with finer hand tools.

A total of 70 hours alone went into carving the lion, and all the other animals were carved with the same attention to detail and care. According to Mike, “The project was a lot of fun to work on as an artist, and a welcome challenge.” Mike has been using HDU since 1994, though he was initially ultra-resistant. Ultimately, the benefits of HDU over wood won him over. “I’ve used CORAFOAM® for about ten years since discovering it. I’ve found it has a much easier, smoother surface, and its hand-carving characteristics are very unique. When I hand carve DUNA, it also curls like wood – none of the other products do that.”

American Woodcarving was started by Mike in 1998 after ten years teaching at the American Woodcarving and Art School. Today, American Woodcarving is a full-service sign shop, specializing in high-quality dimensional signs and sculptures, along with lighted signs and lettering. You may see more information on his website at: http://www.woodensigns.com/home.html.

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