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Labor of love isn't work for woodcarver

by JOHN MARX The (Moline) Dispatch

EAST MOLINE, Ill. - The basement of the East Moline home is museum like. The work that adorns the sitting-room walls would stop other Hall of Fame woodcarvers in their tracks.

What's best, though, is the man behind the art is a humble, faith-filled gentleman, married to his lovely wife Janet for 60 years, and forever willing to share.

Woodcarving is not just in Robert Dravis' hands, it's in his heart and his soul.

His great-grandfather was a gifted carver, the circa 1889 walking stick in Dravis' basement proves as much. His father was a talented watch-maker and engraver from the days when everything was done by hand. The coordination to create has obviously been passed down, but the kind heart and willingness to share his work is all Dravis, and he still is at the top of his woodcarving game.

He takes tremendous pride in being a founding member and first president of the local woodcarver's association, which has been going strong since 1970. He smiles -- only after being pressed -- about the many blue ribbons that adorn the hand-crafted works about his home.

"Oh my, I still love doing it," Dravis, who retired in 1995 after a 28-year managerial career with Bituminous, said while pointing to an amazing presidential seal he carved and two off-the-chart picture frames he brought to life with his carving knife. "For as far back as I can remember, there always has been a project and something when I have a free moment to tend to. Not a day goes by that I don't get into the shop and try to work on something."

The shop, as Dravis puts it, is a spotless corner workshop where he creates just anything you might imagine a master woodcarver can create. A large box filled with heartfelt thank you letters shows the latest project near and dear to the master carver's heart. A project that has reached missionaries across the globe, served as a fundraiser for one local church and simply spread the good word as far as it can be heard.

Dravis has created and shared hundreds of palm crosses for anyone in need. They are cut and finished from a variety of woods, wrapped individually and sent to those who ask. Each comes with the inscription: "May this handmade palm cross be a sign of caring and comfort in a special time of need."

"The satisfaction I get is in the letters I have received or knowing the crosses are making an impact," said Dravis, who also sells a variety of works at shows at the Bettendorf Family Museum, East Moline Library and the Rock Island Arts Council. Dravis also taught woodcarving for 10 years at Black Hawk and Scott Community colleges.

"It's why I have saved the letters, and it's why I try to make sure I get as many crosses made as possible. I took great joy that the crosses helped fund a recent (local) church project."

At 80, Dravis is the picture of health. Like his bride, he is active at church, within the community and hones his woodcarving skills daily. There are crosses to be made and thank you letters to document.

"It (woodcarving) has never been work," Dravis said with a smile. "Even when I was working and I would get going on a project and stay up until 2 (a.m.) and have to be at work the next days, it wasn't like it was work. It's something I believe I was meant to do."

And something Dravis was meant to share.

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