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Calvo Studio thrives amid the downturn

For David Calvo, principal of the Calvo Studio woodcarving school in Gloucester, Mass., a bad economy has actually been good for business.

David Calvo, left, with a student at his school in Gloucester, Mass.

“The thing about the economy is that it really has taken away people’s recreation money. I’m seeing that the way they entertain themselves when money gets tight is that they look for something they can do at home. That’s definitely helped me. I’m doing pretty well and have had no problem with attendance,” says Calvo.

About 80 percent of students attend the school for leisurely purposes. The remaining 20 percent are made up of professional woodworkers who want to learn carving techniques for a specific project or how to make their work more decorative and personal.

Calvo grew up in the Bay State and attended the University of Massachusetts as a philosophy major. But he found the subject of abstract thinking so monotonous that he turned to working with his hands. He made some connections through the New England Woodcarvers Association and apprenticed with two Italian carvers. After working for himself, he opened the school in 1996.

Classes are usually limited to nine students. Calvo is a firm believer that carving is one woodworking discipline that cannot be self-taught.

“This goes by the same principle as taking a violin class or a tennis lesson. You need an instructor there that can adjust your hand position and demonstrate this for you. You can’t get that information through a book. The class setting allows for me to observe your posture and hand technique and show you person-to-person how something that requires skill is done.”

Classes are held weekly or during a three- to five-day period. Sharpening and proper technique is always a focus. Calvo demonstrates these base skills in a new DVD, but says nothing beats classroom instruction.

“Everybody comes through here with a different point of view and skill set, which I can assess when they’re here and help them move to the next level. We only have a short time together, so everyone has to remain focused the whole time.”

Tools are available for rent or purchase at the school. “The advantage of purchasing the tools is that we redesign all of the tool edges because manufactured tools don’t come the way they used to,” says Calvo. “In the olden days, they used to come with an inside bevel and outside bevel, the proportions were just right and the tools moved with such effortlessness through the wood. Today’s tools are not like that. You literally have to sit there and redesign the edge so you get the control that the carvers of the past always used to work with.”

Contact: Calvo Studio, 235 East Main St., Gloucester, MA 01930. Tel: 978-283-0231.

This article originally appeared in the April 2012 issue.

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