By Starrla Cray
HOWARD LAKE, MN Four bigger-than-life wooden moose are “grazing” on Duane Purtilo’s front yard along the north shore of Howard Lake.
The moose stand nearly six feet tall and are close to life size some with a natural brown finish, and others that are special white “Christmas” moose, complete with red bows on their necks.
“These are absolutely Christmas moose,” he said, noting the snow-white finish and bright red bow on the hand-carved creations.
Purtilo plans to sneak one of these larger-than-life moose into the yards of a few of his family members as a surprise in early December.
“They’ll come outside and be like, ‘what the heck?’” he laughed. “Of course, they’ll know it was me.”
Each one is probably about a day’s work, he said, now that he knows how to make them.
“You always learn a little bit as you make something,” he said. Getting them to withstand high winds was one obstacle, but now, their feet are roped down and can take a 40-mph wind speed.
“They did go down before I had them staked down,” Purtilo said.
The idea for the moose came from a woodcarving magazine. Another woodcarver had made the same thing, and Purtilo was intrigued.
“I wrote to him and he sent me the plan,” Purtilo said.
Incidentally, the moose are for sale, for those who wish to buy one or two, he added.
The moose aren’t Purtilo’s first attempt at woodcarving, however. He has a shop based out of his home, called Doc’s Woodworking Shop, and he’s been creating masterpieces for years.
He uses a variety of wood types, such as pine, maple, and spruce.
“I love white pine,” Purtilo said.
The wood comes from Purtilo’s 160-acre hunting property in northern Minnesota. Many of his carvings, such as fish, ducks, bears, and loggers, are tailored to that area, where he sells them at craft shows.
“I’m kind of into Scandinavian style,” he said. “I like to do owls and critters.”
Purtilo and his wife, Alice, also have a property in Florida, where they spend each winter. Purtilo brings a trailer full of carvings with him that are specially made for people down south.
Popular carvings include “anything with guns,” wild boars, and “noodlers,” he said.
Noodlers, Purtilo explained, are people who catch catfish with their bare hands, by sticking their arms inside the fish’s mouth. Sometimes, noodlers will accidentally catch a snapping turtle, or stick their hand in a beaver dam, he said. Purtilo said he likes to carve noodlers who have a catfish in one hand and a snapping turtle in the other.
Purtilo often likes to trade for his woodcarvings, like the carving he made for a restaurant up north of a woman holding pies. They gave him $100, plus $200 in gift certificates.
Before becoming a woodcarver, Purtilo had been a veterinarian. He spent 20 years as a large animal vet, going to farms in the area. Then, he opened an office for small animals in Rockford.
Sometimes, people would miss an appointment or show up late. During those lulls, Purtilo said he picked up whittling.
“I’m kind of a ‘type A’ person, and maybe a little ADD,” he said. “I always have to be working or doing something.”
He started off carving dogs that looked like the ones he treated. He’d then give them to the owners in exchange for a donation to the Wright County Humane Society.
After awhile, Purtilo decided to experiment with a chainsaw.
“Woo, this chain saw’s fast,’” Purtilo said he remembers thinking. “You can do big things with that.”
For carving details, whittling is still the best option, however.
“It’s always a combination,” he said.
Purtilo isn’t limited to just wood carvings, either.
At extended-family gatherings, Purtilo said he enjoys carving potatoes, bars of soap, and figures in the snow with the children.
“It really looks quite phenomenal,” he said.