Faces in the Crowd – Dave Sanderson

May 11, 2018

By Gene Bodnar
Correspondent

It is estimated that about 2,000 people get lost in the woods every year in this country.  I was almost one of them while trying to find Dave Sanderson’s home for this interview.  Twisting and turning around numerous dirt roads, even my GPS wanted to yell, “Stop and let me out.”

Dave Sanderson

Dave Sanderson

When I finally found his home, Dave cordially invited me in, where I met his wife Debra.  A wide variety of completed art projects in several different media were displayed all around the house, for you see, Dave is an accomplished artist – a veritable giant in his field.  He loves art in all of its forms, and he has created it in almost every conceivable medium, including jewelry, ceramics, acrylics, woodcarving, and woodburning.  In addition, he teaches art all over the country, and his artwork can be found in ten different countries besides the U.S.A.

Dave Sanderson was born in Grand Rapids 70 years ago.  As a youngster, he was raised on a farm in Kawkawlin, Michigan, where performed the duties of a typical farm boy, such as milking the cows and baling hay.  He attended Cherry School, which was a one-room schoolhouse that

Woodburning by Dav

Woodburning by Dav

encompassed the first through the eighth grades.  It was here, as early as the first grade, that he developed a passion for art.  At the age of ten, he won his first art competition.

When Dave was 14 years old, he entered a “Draw Me” contest that used to be offered in a variety of magazines.  He won the contest and was granted a $100 scholarship to attend Art International School, a 4-year correspondence course.

Meanwhile, Dave married Debra in 1966 – a marriage that produced 3 sons and one daughter.  Today, Dave and Debra have 15 grandchildren and 3 great-grandchildren.

Dave could not live by art alone.  He learned the welding trade and became an expert welder at the Defoe Shipyard in Bay City, where he built naval ships, including an Australian naval destroyer.  He also worked at the American Hoist and Derrick Company as a welder and structural fitter.  The U.S. Army certified him for the first job, while the U.S. Navy certified him for the second.

Then Dave signed up for a 4-year apprenticeship at Delta College, where he was eventually certified as a boilermaker.  He passed the certification requirements in two days.  Boilermakers perform physically demanding work that not only includes assembling, installing, maintaining and repairing boilers but also includes work on steam turbines or any other containers that hold liquid or gas.

Just a couple of weeks after completing this program, he was asked to teach classes at Delta College for student boilermakers for a “short time.”  Little did he expect that that “short time” turned into eight and a half years.  As a result, he became not only an experienced teacher but also a certified State Inspector as well as a certified X-Ray Technician (welds are frequently x-rayed to find defects).  Near the end of this period in his life, he also became a coordinator for setting up an associate program for certified welders.

After his stint with Delta College, he went back to his boilermaker career.  However, he soon suffered a debility that made it impossible to perform his duties any longer.  So, in 1986, he retired.

The following year, he moved to Harrison.  Since Dave is not one to tolerate doing nothing, he decided to become a reserve police officer, where he spent 4 years as a full-time officer.  He was president of the reserves for two years.  He was a reserve deputy in Harrison, and he was also their booking officer.  In addition, he was a certified officer for the Sheriff’s Office in Lansing.

During his police career, Dave once has to drive a patient a long distance to a mental hospital.  It was slow-going because they were in the middle of a blinding snowstorm.  Early in the journey, his female patient proclaimed that she was Elvis Presley’s wife, and she proceeded to prove it by singing the entire repertoire of Elvis’s songs all the way there.  When Dave reached his destination, he was glad when he left her in the building.

5-11-18 Faces In the Crowd Dave Sanderson 02After his job with the Harrison police, he and his sister decided on a new business – making lawn ornaments and benches.  That’s when Dave got the idea to decorate the benches with woodburning artwork.  He became so adept at it that he began advertising his work, which drew an abundance of customers.  In association with the Optima Company, he even developed his own specialized burning tip.

Dave is an avid member of the Michigan Woodcarvers Association.  Once a year, they offer week-long classes in wood arts.  Dave has been a teacher there for the last 20 years.  Once a month, the association also has a 1-2 day wood art show, usually in Michigan but sometimes in nearby states.  This year’s week-long classes will be held at the Midland Fairgrounds from May 21-25.  Each class is limited to 12 students.  Classes are held in a 12,000 square-foot, hexagon-shaped, domed-roof building, which is well-lit with windows on the upper walls all around the perimeter.  The facility is heated and barrier free.  There are 17 classes offered on literally every aspect of woodcarving.

Besides teaching at the Michigan Woodcarvers Association, Dave teaches his wood art literally all over the U.S.A.  Hobby Lobby and Michael’s hire him regularly.  He has taught in Arkansas, Pennsylvania, Texas, as well as in other states.  He was licensed to design the Louisiana State University’s mascot, the Bengal tiger.  He has also won the “Woodcarver of the Year” award three times.  On top of all this, he’s created woodburning portraits of several county and western stars, which brought him recognition on five occasions in the “Country Weekly Magazine,” and he was fortunate to meet several of the stars in person, including Brenda Lee, Kris Kristofferson, Merle Haggard, and others.

I asked Dave if he will ever retire from teaching.  He said, “I keep saying I’m going to retire, going to retire, but I know I never will.”  Why not?  Because he loves the thrill of getting “goose pimples” when one of his students achieves recognition or acclaim for a great piece of art.  He was their teacher!

Every Friday morning from 9 a.m. to noon, you can find Dave enjoying the camaraderie of a group called the Harrison Woodcarvers, a group devoted to all arts involving wood.  It’s open to anyone, beginners or experts, young or old.  They assist each other when necessary; they work on their own creations at a very long table; they all have their own tools but large tools are available for sharing; and they discuss all aspects of the art.  Dues are only $5 a year, which covers insurance for the club.  If you’re interested in joining or if you wish further information, contact Dave at (989) 339-6444.  You can also view Dave’s artwork on Facebook under “Sanderson Wood Art.”

Finally, Dave is a member of the Clare County Genealogy Society.  As a member, he has discovered how to trace his ancestry all the way back to the 1700s.

As you can see, Dave is an expert is several fields, but his special love now is wood art in its many forms.  And he’s willing to share that expertise with others and to make them experts as well.  Indeed, he is one who has taken a walk through the “wood arts” and has come out taller than the trees.  Dave Sanderson is a genuine treasure to the community.

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