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Cary man carves out niche with wooden birds, waterfowl

Retired state police officer Craig Osimowicz works on his hobby of carving birds out of wood inside his garage workshop in Cary.
Retired state police officer Craig Osimowicz works on his hobby of carving birds out of wood inside his garage workshop in Cary.

CARY – He carves them in his garage and passes his pile of mistakes on his way to paint them in the kitchen.

His first was in December 2016. It was a black duck that looks like a mallard with a light-colored head. Since that initial black duck, Cary resident Craig Osimowicz has expanded upon his carving skills to an award-winning level.

In 2017, Osimowicz noticed he was starting to get better and picked up his production, carving items to give to family and friends, as well as for his personal collection.

Osimowicz was an investigator for the Illinois Secretary of State Police and retired in 2014 at the age of 50. He took up carving shortly after.

“I was 52 years old when I started carving,” Osimowicz said. “All the way back in high school, I had an interest in it and in a few classes in college, I made some things from clay. I like creating something from nothing. With wood, it’s a block and you just find the shape in the block.”

He is self-taught, picking up tips from YouTube tutorials and working through a lot of trial and error.

“For every way you can think of doing something, everybody has a different way to do it,” Osimowicz said. “I watched a lot of videos and took the techniques that worked best for me. A lot I found on my own. I have a pile of mistakes that I’ve made; it’s in my garage. Someday, I’m going to get to the point that I like them.”

Ducks, songbirds, crows, Cooper’s hawks are just a few of the subject matters of his carvings.

“I don’t carve the same thing one after the other. I jump from one thing to the next, so everything is a learning process,” Osimowicz said. “I’m carving a platypus right now. I think it’s kind of a goofy, cute little critter and I thought it would be neat to see. I’m also carving a cardinal for my auntie.”

Osimowicz said he wants to continue to hone his craft. He has seen his work progress but said he still has a lot to learn.

“The best part is really roughing out the piece, cutting out the main parts and jumping into it when it’s just a block,” Osimowicz said. “You can go one of two ways. You can keep it simple or you make it look like the real subject. I’m not quite there where I want to mimic an actual bird. Some carvers put taxidermy in front of them and carve it, but I’m just not there.”

Vern Brancamp, the owner of Vern’s Taxidermy in Algonquin, begs to differ.

“I have a few simple words to state, ‘He’s gonna be a star’,” said Brancamp. “He’s good, he’s just doesn’t know it yet. He’s got the want and the desire and the devotion. He does a lot of research to perfect his skills but has his own style.”

Osimowicz said he brings some of his decoys to show Brancamp to critique, sometimes during his carving process and other times the fully finished product. He said Brancamp’s standard is the perfect bird, which Osimowicz does not feel he is doing.

The two met about two years ago when Osimowicz went to Vern’s place of business to ask Vern about glass eyes for ducks. Unbenounced to Brancamp, Osimowicz dormed with Brancamp’s son in college. Knowing that Brancamp was a decoy duck collector, Osimowicz went in for some advice.

“He came in and we started talking and we’ve been in love ever since,” Brancamp jokes. “He did a wing repair for duck I had. He didn’t want to do it at first because he thought he wasn’t ready. But then he came back and agreed to do it. When he was done, you couldn’t even tell it was repaired. I rate that a 10 replacement.”

Osimowicz said his favorite thing to carve is his decoy ducks.

“I like the look of decoys. They look like a duck but they don’t look like the real thing,” Osimowicz said. “I like the idea of it being a utility tool when I do the ducks, that they will be used for hunting. For the contests that I enter, they have to be functional for hunting. They have to be able pop up and back over in the water when they’re upside down.”

Osimowicz entered his decoys in the 2017 and 2018 Wisconsin Waterfowl Decoy Carving Contest. The first year he came away with four ribbons and this year, he doubled that, coming away with eight ribbons, including third best in show overall. He plans to continue to perfect his carvings and is readying his entries for the 2019 competition.

Osimowicz loves carving for friends and family as well as himself and has no plans for selling his creations, right now.

“I’m still in a place where I make what I want to make for me,” Osimowicz said. “If someone really wants to buy something I’d make it for them, but at this point I think it’s weird to sell something I’ve made. I’m just enjoying making whatever comes to mind.”

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