Carving wood is a labor of love

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, August 2, 2000

LEONARD GRAY / L’Observateur / August 2, 2000

DES ALLEMANDS – He sits quietly, his homemade, razor-sharp knife moving quickly, sure and patient. The results are obvious.Landry Dempster, a lifelong resident of Des Allemands and commercial fisherman by trade, has an incredible talent in crafting life-like wildlife wood carvings, so real you have to touch them to know for sure.

Landry started his woodcarving pastime 22 years ago, “just for something to do” when he wasn’t fishing.

In his modest Up the Bayou Road home, Dempster and his wife of 44 years, Carol, display a massive carving of a wood owl, wings outspread, holding a just-slain squirrel.

At the recent Louisiana Catfish Festival, where the carving was displayed along with smaller carvings for sale, including miniature wood decoys, one visitor was angry and outspoken.

“She said she would have us arrested,” recalled Carol Dempster, noting that having a stuffed owl violates endangered species laws.

Similarly, when she bought the glass eyes for the owl carving from a taxidermist, he cautioned her about having a stuffed owl.

But it’s wood, through and through, each feather hand-carved and painted to match life. He used photographs of a real owl to match the colors andproportions.

In fact, the only part of the carving he didn’t craft himself is the cypress stump the owl is perched upon – a stump he recovered from Bayou Des Allemands, which passes in front of his home.

“I worked a year on that thing,” he said of the owl carving.

His talent has gotten a measure of recognition, but Landry isn’t seeking fame and fortune. However, he said he does get a measure of reward for hislatest commission – a new tabernacle for St. Gertrude Catholic Church in DesAllemands.

For the new tabernacle, which will hold the Host for masses, he is assembling a cypress cross adorned with wheat stalks, grapes, bread and a catfish. Heis carving each element himself and assembling them into a whole, which will be mounted upon the tabernacle.

In addition, Landry is crafting a new pulpit for the church, to be adorned with symbols representing the Four Gospels.

He doesn’t have a woodworking shop, but instead can often be found sitting on his front porch, sometimes with a grandson or two, quietly whittling away on a piece of wood. On this particular day, grandson Luke, joined him, the 4-year-old child’s eyes following every movement of his grandfather’s hands as he worked on a grape leaf for the tabernacle.

It’s solitary work and doesn’t require a lot of talking. However, it’sfascinating to watch something being created in a craftsman’s hands.

It’s a small miracle.

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