St. Marys native William O. Zelt, who now resides in the high country of Colorado, became interested in woodcarving at a very young age, and now that he is retired, is enjoying woodcarving more than ever.
Zelt was born in 1933 in St. Marys, the oldest son of William and Rose Zelt. He has two sisters, Dorothy and Rose Ann, and two brothers, John and Jerry, who still live in this area. He attended Sacred Heart School and graduated from Central Catholic in 1951, was drafted into the Army in 1953 and eventually studied engineering at Penn State after becoming a machinist at Stackpole Carbon Company.
William and his wife, Nancy, whom he met in college, now live in Loveland, Colorado, located at the foothills of the Rocky Mountains.
"I was stationed at Fort Carson, Colo., during my Army days and I fell in love with the climate, mountains, and the hunting and fishing it had to offer. After I got married, I brought my wife to Colorado on a visit and she agreed to move here," Zelt said.
He found work in Boulder at the University of Colorado Physics Department as a Scientific Instrument Maker. He spent six years at that position, then moved to the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR). After 25 years, he retired from NCAR and moved to Loveland, which is known as a fine arts town, especially for sculpture. There, he could continue refining his woodcarving technique.
"Since high school, I was interested in wood carving. A neighbor, Pete Spence, who carved a crucifix for the new Queen of the World parish, encouraged me and gave me two books on woodcarving, which I memorized and still treasure," said Zelt. "Ever since, I wanted to be a good woodcarver, and I grew, carving decoys and relief scenes and wildlife. I discovered sculpture through books in college and read them more than my studies.
"I took workshop and evening classes at the Fine Arts Academy in Loveland from leading American sculptors. I could sculpt a good portrait in 12 hours, as we did it often in class. I also learned to make molds and pour and prepare waxes for lost wax casting, and chemical patina finish for bronze," Zelt said.
He sculpted a number of table-size bronze sculptures of Native Americans (one of which is in the local Boy Scout headquarters) and wildlife. He also did cast stone portraits and relief panels, and exhibited and sold his items in galleries in Colorado.
He donated a Pioneer Family sculpture to St. Marys, which at one time was displayed in the city manager's office.
"My love for wood never left and I took up woodcarving again," said Zelt.
He carves in walnut, cherry, linden wood, catalpa, bristlecone pine, and has used lilac and olive a few times. His tools are a bandsaw to form the blank, and gouges, mallets and knives.
"I do not use power carving tools and I work in several styles, mostly human realistic, but some stylized forms, like wildlife, especially bears and scenic panels for clocks," added Zelt.
Mr. Zelt has collected many blue ribbons at county fairs, art shows, and woodcarving shows over the year. He was invited to teach carving in Kerrville, Texas, for the Texas Carving Guild, where 380 carvers were in attendance.
He and his wife also spent a few weeks in Germany where he visited a number of carving shops.
"Upon returning home, I started carving clock cases, wanting to outdo the Germans. My collection grew and I decided to share my ideas, so I self-published a book, 'The Spirit of Carving Clocks'."
Over the years, Mr. Zelt has belonged to four woodcarving clubs, and three years ago was named "Carver of the Year" by the Ft. Collins Club.
"To me, respect from peers, all excellent carvers, is as good as it gets," said Zelt. "The hobby has been a great learning experience, and gave me some beautiful people to associate with, and there is always something new to learn and carve."
Zelt has had an article published in a carving magazine, and recently submitted another. He noted that his greatest reward was when his parish church, named after St. John the Evangelist, accepted a two-foot statue of St. John that he carved.
William and his wife Nancy have two sons, a daughter and a grandson.