Manfred Scheel's wood carvings are likely inspiration for any artist's quest for excellence. The Bethlehem, PA, artist has been carving professionally for forty years. His background in cabinetry mixes well with a boyhood bent for drawing and painting—he conceives carving as a multi-dimensional canvas. Scheel's work encounters an electric bench tool only once, when he cuts the rough form. Then it's straight to the knife. "I'm used to it, I like it," he says. "I can cut by hand faster than a grinder. I can round them up real quick. Plus, I like chips rather than dust."
For years, Scheel made his living selling his work on the national art show circuit, fifteen or so each year. He still does the World Show in Ocean City, MD, where he also serves as a judge. But the business has changed. "There are lots of good young artists coming up, but interest level is way down. The old customers have all they want and there don't seem to be a lot of new collectors. Lots of carvers have gone by the wayside, mediocre or over priced. People like detail and craftsmanship. Some come to shows and don't sell anything. Their wife has a good job, or they have a pension. There are a lot out there that I think are better than me. But some work on a piece two, three months. I can't afford that. So I make things for a lower price, I can get them out in less time and don't have to charge thousands of dollars. I know a lot of carvers, even good ones, that carry a piece around for two or three years."
Manfred still carves a few full size decoys, old style shore bird decoys, and full size songbirds—pretty much everything that represents a revered folk art evolved from simplistic carvings to ornately painted decorative slicks (or smoothies). Sheel has placed four times in world miniature competition, and it is miniatures that have become his specialty. Every feather is carved and burned, each stroke done by hand and painted. There is less territory to sculpt so they demand less time; still they embody all the artist's skill and craftsmanship drawn from a lifetime of experience.
Manfred Scheel's work is available at the Decoys and Wildlife Gallery in Frenchtown. 908-996-6501.