Thursday, May 10, 2012

The Woodcarver

He has the eyes of an eagle, the hands of a surgeon and the feisty wit of a “Seinfeld.” He is Lancaster County woodcarver Thomas David Grassel and he is a good deal more.  During the course of my forays, collecting, buying and selling antiques and collectibles, I spend a lot of time in Pennsylvania Dutch Country at farm sales, estate sales, auctions and markets.  Along the way I encounter many interesting folks I’d like to introduce you to one of whom is Mr. Grassel of Conestoga, PA.  

Mr. Grassel has farmed where he’s lived for about 50 years, raising corn, hay and with mule teams, tobacco. He has also owned and operated a very successful paving company. About ten years ago a friend, who was a good wood carver, got Grassel interested in carving figures.  His first piece was a large Conestoga wagon complete with a team of six mules. Pieces like that one today carry price tags in the neighborhood of $3,500.00.  He’s also done a collection of family members, friends and neighbors.  “I always liked old people,” he remarked recently, “and enjoyed carving their likenesses.”  Grassel donated 16 of his carvings to the nearby Conestoga-area Historical Society for a “Down on the Farm” exhibit.

A train enthusiast Mr. Grassel has embedded a winding loop of train tracks on his property on which he and his grandkids ride scaled-down railroad cars.

Mr. Grassel turns 73 next December and is starting to wind down his carving and collecting activities.  A recent on-site auction featured dozens of the oil and kerosene lamps he has collected over the years along with railroad lanterns, fine china and many of his carved figures.  The sale was very well attended by family, friends and neighbors so there were few opportunities for outsiders to successfully bid on his wood work. But seeing them all in one place at one time was in itself rewarding.


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