Carved with care
Medford woodcarver Hayden Robertson has spent about 38 years carving elaborate works of art, but he doesn't show many signs of slowing down.
Robertson, 92, is best known for his carvings of bison and bears, and occasionally horses and fowl. Nearly everything he carves is for sale, yet profit is far from his focus. Robertson simply asks customers to make checks payable to one of his chosen charities, especially the American Cancer Society.
Since losing Alberta, his second wife and the inspiration for his carving, to cancer, Robertson has sent some $10,000 in customer checks to the organization.
He also contributes to St. Jude's Children's Research Hospital, as well as veterans organizations and children's advocacy groups.
Robertson, who worked in the family hardware business in San Diego until he retired in 1990, said his wife and sons nudged him toward painting back in the days when he was still working full time. But a weekend getaway with Alberta jump-started his passion for carving.
"One week after work, my wife said there was a wood-carving show down in San Diego. She had me in painting classes I wasn't really liking too much, and I said, 'I don't have enough time with you now, so unless you want to go with me, I'm not going to go,' " Robertson recalled.
Both attended the event, then they came home and connected with local carvers, joining the Central Point Woodcarvers Association.
"My wife actually did the first carving out of us both. She could do everything. She was one of those very talented people. I don't think there's anything she tried that she didn't master."
Robertson was initially reluctant to sell his carvings, but after losing Alberta in 2005, carving provided a social outlet and something he could sell to generate donations to help other families battling cancer.
Fellow club members Marty and Barbara Tice said Robertson is an inspiration for younger carvers, and a willing teacher.
"I was working on a piece that looked like a polar bear, but it wasn't really as proportionate as it should be, and he took a look at it. The next week I saw Hayden, and he came with a blank and said, 'Here's a polar bear for you,' " Marty Tice said.
"The patience he has is just incredible. He just loves the craft of woodcarving and loves sharing it."
A woodshop set up in back of Robertson's house is brimming with projects, and he works on multiple carvings at once. Two of his four surviving sons live in assisted-living facilities, while Robertson still lives in his east Medford home and drives his own pickup truck.
Robertson teases that he's slowing down in his later years, but only a little. He said he has rejected doctors' notions to "put another stent in" his heart.
Robertson surrounds himself with beautiful carvings, his own and those he's collected from artists who inspire him to "keep learning." Some of his favorite pieces are early carvings of boots and birds done by his late wife.
"I started out when I was about 60, so I guess I've been at this for a little while, but I just keep plugging along. I know I've probably carved over 50 bears and a small herd of buffalo," he says with a laugh.
"I don't even try to keep track of time, but I know I probably got more carving done before I retired. I guess as long as you have stuff to do, it keeps you going ... and I've still got some carvings to finish."
Buffy Pollock is a freelance writer living in Medford. Email her at email@example.com.