whittler dominy

L. Ray Dominy has completed 88 wooden sculptures since he took up the knife in 1999. Dominy is known around Gallatin for his wooden roses.

While he may be best known around Gallatin for his beautifully whittled roses, L. Ray Dominy’s home and workshop are full of other lumber-borne creations, as well.

There’s a buffalo that was his first complete artwork, from chunk of wood to finished sculpture. There’s six or seven intricately-carved walking canes that took Dominy somewhere between 120 to 150 hours each to complete. And there are countless Santas, Moses and pilgrims that all stand in testament to the skill of their creator.

“People always ask me how I do it, and I tell them it’s mostly just technique, but they don’t believe me,” Dominy said. “I’m not artistic at all.”

Whether he’s artistic or not, being able to take a block of wood and turn it into a delicate-looking rose is a talent that not many possess. According to Dominy, he used to whittle as a child, but didn’t really start carving again until retirement.

“I whittled when I was a youngster, toy guns and rocket ships and stuff like that. Then, back in 1999, a friend of mine that I’ve known and worked with for 30 years or more, came to me one day and told me about a carving class over at Kilgore College and he said, ‘let’s go over there and take that class,’” Dominy said, “and I thought it sounded to me like a good idea. It would give us something to do after we retire, so we decided to do it. We found out that the class got canceled, but we heard about a group that meets at Henderson every third Saturday that carves, so we decided to try there. That was in September of ‘99 and I’ve been whittling ever since then.”

Since he started again in earnest, Dominy has completed 88 carving projects. As Dominy finishes a carving he either begins the process of smoothing it and applying finish to it or he hands it over to his wife, Syndia, for painting.

According to Dominy, trial and error have taught him what woods are good for carving and what woods aren’t.

“An even grain makes wood more ideal for carving. You want something that’s not real burly or curly,” said Dominy. “Basswood is a good wood for carving, it holds detail real well.”

Dominy’s first rose, which now holds a prominent place in their display case, was carved without the use of power tools and took Dominy about 14 hours to complete.

“We’ve made a few roses. We kept the first one, the second one was a Christmas present, and we’ve donated two to Gopher Fest to help raise money,” Syndia said. “When people saw the roses and really liked them, we got more interested in making them.”

For the past two years, the Dominys have donated a rose to the annual Gallatin Gopher Fest to use as a raffle ticket prize.

Dominy is currently working on his first yellow rose and has been saving a piece of beautiful, multi-colored juniper wood to make his first natural, unpainted rose.

“Whittling’s a great stress reliever, and time just flies by when you’re sitting there. And I like that it’s a challenge. You’ve only got one shot at it, and if you mess up, it doesn’t fix itself,” Dominy said. “Mistakes happen quite often, there’s a lot of stuff that doesn’t get finished.”

Although he regularly gets offers for his work, Dominy’s work is not available for purchase. In fact, he has only sold one sculpture — and that was to a close, personal friend.

“Some people do it for a living, but these really are like children,” said Dominy. “When you make one, you don’t want to get rid of it — there’s so much time and effort involved in it, you become attached.”

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