Welcome back to our profile series and another interview of one of the vendors at Midtown Farmers’ Market. This week we’re taking a detour from the typical food vendor, and we’re spending some time getting to know Michael and Frances Worsham, the creative imagineers behind Whittle People. We asked Michael how he first got inspired to whittle, who is his favorite character, and what he likes most about Midtown Farmers’ Market.
North Hills Live: So, who was the clever one who came up with the name “Whittle People”?
Michael Worsham: My wife Frances and I developed the name. Her idea for the slogan perfectly describes “Whittle People”: finding friends in blocks of wood.
NHL: Where and when did Whittle People get its start?
MW: Well, you have to promise not to laugh, but I have always liked making big pieces of wood smaller. Like a lot of people, I carried around a pocketknife, but never viewed myself as an artist. But one thing I could do really well was help my wife figure out which Tupperware container would fit our leftovers. One day as I was listening to a YouTube video, the guy explained, “You can carve three dimensional caricature pieces from wood if you can “see” what might fit in a Tupperware container.” And I thought, well if that’s all it takes, then surely I can do that! It’s been a little over four years that I’ve been carving and that’s how it all began … with Tupperware containers.
NHL: So, you had never whittled before the YouTube video?
MW: No, other than making big sticks into small sticks.
NHL: What is your favorite part about working at the Midtown Farmers’ Market?
MW: All the sweet people who come out! Initially I went out there because I was filling up our house with carvings and my wife said, “This can’t continue … either you need to find another hobby or sell these treasures!” So we applied to the market. Any vendor will tell you they see some of the same people every week. All sorts of really sweet people stop and see what I’m carving. Moms will show their kids and before you know it, I’m encouraging them to buy some ivory soap and a butter knife and explaining how to carve a whale out of soap. So, it’s more than just selling stuff.
NHL: Which figure or whittle person is a crowd favorite?
MW: Well, one of the things about whittling is you can either concentrate on one thing, like some guys become Santa carvers. Or, if you’re like me and you like to try new things, you’ll attempt anything and everything. One of the first things I began to do when I started (and I still do each market Saturday) is carve a little owl that we call “Hoot.” We encouraged people to buy one for themselves and some to give away to others because on the tag we write, “Give a Hoot.” I’ve sold or given away hundreds since I started, so that’s been our most notable figure. One couple asked me to carve a hillbilly figure (Delmar) to match a little handcrafted log cabin they purchased in the North Carolina mountains. After a month or so, we all decided that Delmar needed a soul mate, so I carved a sweet little gal named Birdie. A match made at the North Hills Farmers’ Market.
NHL: How many figures can you whittle during one Farmers’ Market?
MW: I usually start off with two or three little Hoots to warm up, then carve a figure over the course of three to four hours (depends upon how much visiting goes on). Then they get painted, but I can’t do that out there. Usually toward the end, you have a little face looking back at you and that’s when they get their names. I’m also a writer, so the story part is almost as fun as the whittling part.
NHL: I was on your Facebook page and there are some cute stories about the whittle people … they just come to you?
MW: Yes, usually the name comes first, then once the name comes then I just start making up this story as the figure gets finished. It sounds silly, but we get attached to them. Like the little guy who makes skunk hats out of live skunks. We really liked him, and if we really like one we’ll price them high to kind of keep them as long as we can. When that one sold my wife started to cry. Once you name them, you can get real attached to them, kind of like a pet.
NHL: What was the skunk man’s name?
MW: Hab R. Dasher
NHL: Where can we find your whittle people when you’re not at the Midtown Farmers’ Market?
MW: Well, that little page you went to is just a Facebook Whittle People page, and each one I carve I post a picture so I can try out the story and the carving. There are probably several hundred carvers that will come to my Facebook page and tell me what they think, some more kind than they need to be. That’s where I’m posting right now because I’ve tried commissioned work and that’s not my favorite. People have given me a picture of “Grandpa” and asked that I carve him, but my skills haven’t exactly reached Michelangelo’s level, so it’s best if I just whittle what comes to me.
NHL: Do you prefer to create animals or people?
MW: Definitely people! The only times I will do animals is when they have some sort of human characteristic. I much prefer people, but if they are animals, then they are fantasy kinds.
NHL: What else would you like to share about being a part of the Midtown Farmers’ Market?
It’s just a wonderful experience all around! The music is top notch, so to be able to sit there on a Saturday morning and carve while listening to music … I’m not sure how it can get any better. We’ve got great neighbors that have been there for four years. It’s a wonderful community, and my wife will bake treats and distribute them to the vendors nearby. Boris, the Pepper King, hands out his flowers to other vendors at the end of the market. It feels a lot like family, and whoever came up with this format was brilliant because it’s different than any other Farmers’ Market we’ve been to. It really is a special place.
We’re there on the first Saturday of the month so come see us! We are only there once a month because it takes an entire month for us to get ready, and this way I can get all kinds of new things going. By the time we get there, we are energetic and ready to go!
If you are interested in getting your very own Hoot, whittle person, or learning more about whittling, be sure to stop by to see Michael and Frances at Whittle People at the Midtown Farmers’ Market. But be sure to go the first Saturday of every month, or you may miss your chance to meet the whittle person that’s right for you!