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Woodcarver makes impression with intricate wall hangings

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Ellsworth, 54011
Ellsworth Wisconsin 126 S. Chestnut St. 54011

TOWN OF TRIMBELLE --- They resemble two-dimensional wall art, but Milton Riemenschneider's hand-carved wooden renderings of subjects ranging from wildlife to outdoor scenes stand in three-dimensional depth as a testimony to time and patience.

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The woodcarver has over 30 hours invested in some of his work, and that's with the benefit of 20 years of experience, he said Thursday. Using a scroll saw, he painstakingly cuts raised details into the oak, butternut or other woods serving as the basis for each of his wall hangings. They not only cover the walls of his Town of Trimbelle farm home, but have been taken by buyers to Illinois, Indiana, Michigan and North Dakota --- even places as distant as Texas.

"I give the Lord the credit," he said.

Indeed, one of the most prominent efforts hanging in his living room is an ornate rendition of The Lord's Prayer, framed and spotlighted. Riemenschneider said he was in North Dakota helping care for his sister, an Alzheimer's patient, when he came across a similar work done in 1908 by a convict. He photographed that one to recreate it, altering it slightly. One of his most elaborate efforts took 36 hours and 25 minutes to complete and features 525 separate cuts.

"I went through 19 saw blades," he said, noting he drills holes besides cutting to achieve his artistry. He admits the process requires a steady hand.

He said he's made four copies of The Lord's Prayer in wood. Two sizes of his Last Supper are also on the walls nearby, with 21 hours invested in the larger one. He claims between 20 and 25 of the Christ-and-his-apostles scenes in wood. Care must be taken to protect all the carvings from the elements while in progress; moisture can make fine pieces bend, for example.

Wife Lois helps with gluing, using a roller and string to "get things really straight," she said. The carver relies on patterns ordered from Wildwood Design in Janesville. The wood's obtained wherever possible, such as from Spring Valley Hardwoods, to which he planned a trip last week.

Among his projects are an American eagle in flight (adorned with a small flag), a trophy fish being pulled from the water (accompanied by a photo of fishermen) and a hunting party in the woods (shown on the lower front of an intricately carved clock). A "welcome" sign was one of his first undertakings, and he regularly gets requests for signs and nameplates. Just a few of his creations aren't meant for walls, like the Lazy Susan he made in the shape of a flower (it was colorfully painted by Ethel Stockwell, though most of his work is finished with stains). He's taken first place at the Pierce County Fair for a wooden jaguar, and has appeared with a selection of his items at the St. Francis Catholic Church fall craft show and the Beldenville Old Car Club show.

"Mostly, people hear about me by word-of-mouth," he said.

Riemenschneider said he started the pastime after a friend, Ted Nelson, told him about having done it.

"If he can do it, I can do it," he said he informed his wife. Nelson is a member of the couple's church, Grace Nazarene in Inver Grove Heights, Minn., and most of his buyers have been churches.

His type of woodcarving art originated in Germany, dating to 1472-1500, he said. A nephew who visited that country brought him a book about it from Rothenburg, which refers to a Tilman Riemenschneider, suggesting a connection to his heritage. Large raised carvings can be seen on the walls of Catholic and Lutheran churches throughout Germany today.

The local carver works at his craft "just about every day," he said. One of his few mishaps has been cutting a thumb, which he initially dismissed as a minor cut, but ended up having three stitches in and being scolded by his doctor for not getting medical attention earlier. He's owned several scroll saws, presently using a DeWalt model. Lately, he's been upgrading the ceiling in the shop where he does his carving.

Riemenschneider was born on a farm along CTH O, not far from his present home, he said. His father, Jake, and stepmother, Pearl (his mom died when he was two-years-old), traveled when he was a youngster. He attended grade school in River Falls and Emerald, and high school in Prescott. His dad helped build the swinging bridge and a swimming pool in River Falls.

His own career was as a mechanic with Ford Motor Co., and he retired from a Ford plant outside of Detroit, he said. He took up woodcarving around the time the couple moved to their present home. Mrs. Riemenschneider's employed at the Ellsworth Care Center; when they can get away, they travel to visit their four daughters, eight grandchildren and 12 great-grandchildren. Their oldest and youngest daughters, Brenda and Lori, live in Michigan, while the two others, Roxanne and Tina, are in Washington State and Indiana, respectively.

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