Meet the Folks at It's a Burl: Kerby carvers liberate the creatures and faces trapped inside dead trees
By Paul Fattig
Medford Mail Tribune
KERBY -- When Dan Shinerock digs into a pile of driftwood, you may want
to stand back. If you happen to be an arachnophobe, stand way, way back.
"This is my first 10-legged chair," says the wood weaver as he contemplates a chair taking shape at It's a Burl, an art gallery of woodwork in Kerby. "Yeah, those do look like spider legs." Indeed, the manzanita limbs intertwined around the maple burl give the creation a spidery French provincial air.
"The manzanita has that kind of spooky look to it," he says. "These pieces just called out to be a spider chair." But it fits well in this Middle Earth fantasy world where J.R.R. Tolkien would have felt right at home. Wooden wizards emerge from stumps. Frogs hop out of logs. Time clicks away in burl clocks. And there are faces of wood elves grinning or scowling out of barkless maple logs used as posts.
Outside is a forest of burls, stumps and crooked logs, waiting to be turned into things of beauty. Some are odd pieces of driftwood harvested from the beach; others are harvested from local woods.
There are three tree houses in the local broadleaf maple trees, including one three-story structure. Nearby a wooden biplane dangles in midair. Below it an 8-foot wooden rooster is the cock of the walk.
The gallery is owned by Joy and Harvey Shinerock, parents of the younger Shinerock. They opened it in 1987 in what was originally the old Kerby post office. After the building burned in 1995, they began rebuilding from the ground up.
Originally hailing from Southern California, they moved to Israel, then returned to the United States where they traveled in a converted bus.
The elder Shinerock, a woodcarver, began working burls in 1977. "We used to travel to a lot of shows but now we just work here," says Harvey Shinerock, 65. "But we're not a factory. We reject any requests for repetitive products."
Woodcarver Gary Burns, 47, hailing from June Lake, Calif. where he lives most of the year, stops in periodically to do a little work or pick up some carving material. He's currently freeing a wizard's face from a tree post in the gallery. "When I start on a piece of wood, I try to uncover its potential," Burns explains. "It's not that hard. It just takes time."
Burns, who has a degree in recreation administration, began carving with a mail-order saber saw in 1971 as a way to make Christmas gifts. Now a fulltime carver, Burns says Kerby is becoming a Mecca to
woodcarvers. "Carvers from all over come here," he says. "This is the biggest operation of its kind that I know of on the entire West Coast."
The unique building, which also houses the Shinerocks' living quarters, is about to get larger under the watchful eye of builder Stan Dalegowski, 48, of O'Brien. "I tell people, `Give me your fantasy,"' says Dalegowski, who later adds, "They certainly did."
Fantasy went into overtime with the impressive structure, which will cover some 4,000 square feet when completed. Broadleaf maple poles, complete with burls, holds up the porch. Inside, a large black oak stands sturdy.
That atmosphere suits Dan Shinerock, 30, just fine. He is a conventional builder by trade. "But you have a lot more room to be creative with this work," he says. "Each piece seems to call out for its own look."
But a 10-legged chair, which he estimates will fetch $800 when sold to a gallery near Seattle, takes time to finish, he says. He will finish it with several coats of a mixture of oil, lacquer and Varathane. "The color really comes out when you finish it," he says. "It just jumps out."
Like a spider